This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

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From Tabernacle, to the Tomb of Yawgmoth,
From the Rishadan Port, to the Molten Pinnacle,
This land will will affect both you and me.

Lands

Considering the title, imagery and Woody Guthrie homage, you probably could have guessed this article is about lands. Not just your basic assortment of lands though. Today, I’ll be focusing on utilizing lands as your primary route for victory. The amount of reliance on your lands as win-conditions will vary from list to list, but the overall theme will stay a constant.

Now, in a format where (almost) every card in existence is at your disposal, why on earth would you want to focus on questions such as “Should I play two or three cycling lands?”, or the various game-plans surrounding Zuran Orb. For starters, there’s the “rogue factor”. You would be hard-pressed to find a strategy that a dedicated Highlander player isn’t prepared for, but lands comes close to fitting the bill. It is not uncommon for decks to carry little to no answer(s) for lands, be the cause of their grief a pesky Port or a migraine inducing Maze. For instance, while certain aggressive strategies Molten Rain on your parade, the most common disrupt you’ll come across will be in the form of Strip Mine or Wasteland. These however are merely momentary lapses in the natural progression of a Loam deck, and they come at quite a cost for our opponents. Control variants on the other hand, have little to offer in terms of counter-play. Pithing Needle serves as a suitable wrench in certain routes towards victory, but is entirely dependant on the situation at hand. Tectonic Edge is also a fine retort, however certain circumstances must be met for it to function as intended.

While all the cards listed serve their intended purposes (quite well at that), the resilience of Loam/Land engines is quite difficult to overcome entirely.

But, what if there is no “surprise!”.

The gig is up. You’ve been found out. Your opponent happens to be the player that lent you the Dark Depths you’re using this particular evening. Have no fear, for the “rogue factor” isn’t the only reason to take on terrain warfare. If the room is clogged with decks packing reactive spells, then you’re in luck! Mana Leak does not fare well against Valakut triggers, and board sweepers are frankly depressing, when you’re sitting across from a board of multiple man-lands. Of course, we won’t get off that easy. Reactive cards still threaten to muck up certain key spells and sequencing, which forces our engine to run a tad slower than usual. This however can be avoided, by taking more of an attrition route to victory.

Horn-of-Greed
AKA “The Slow Grind”

Loam Pox – 100 Cards – 14 Points
Serge Yager

Artifacts – 7
Chrome Mox
Crucible of Worlds (1)
Expedition Map
Horn of Greed
Mana Crypt (2)
Mox Diamond
Zuran Orb

Creatures – 8
Academy Rector
Bloodghast
Dark Confidant
Deathrite Shaman
Eternal Witness
Knight of the Reliquary
Oracle of Mul Daya
Vampire Hexmage

Enchantments – 11
Bitterblossom
Chains of Mephistopheles
Choke
Drop of Honey
Exploration
Fastbond (2)
Mirri’s Guile
Nether Void
Porphyry Nodes
Sylvan Library
The Abyss

Instants – 11
Abrupt Decay
Constant Mists
Crop Rotation
Enlightened Tutor (2)
Entomb
Grisly Salvage
Mental Misstep
Nature’s Claim
Realms Uncharted
Shadow of Doubt
Snuff Out

Planeswalkers – 1
Liliana of the Veil

Sorceries – 20
Beseech the Queen
Death Cloud
Duress
Gitaxian Probe
Hymn to Tourach
Ice Storm
Innocent Blood
Inquisition of Kozilek
Life from the Loam
Maelstrom Pulse
Mind Twist (1)
Pox
Raven’s Crime
Regrowth
Smallpox
Sylvan Scrying
Thoughtseize
Toxic Deluge
Vindicate
Worm Harvest

Lands – 42
Arid Mesa
Barren Moor
Bayou
Bloodstained Mire
Bojuka Bog
Dark Depths
Flagstones of Trokair
Glacial Chasm
Godless Shrine
Horizon Canopy
Karakas
Marsh Flats
Maze of Ith
Mishra’s Factory
Misty Rainforest
Nantuko Monastery
Overgrown Tomb
Rishadan Port
Savannah
Scrubland
Secluded Steppe
Strip Mine (4)
Tectonic Edge
Temple Garden
The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale
Thespian’s Stage
Tranquil Thicket
Treetop Village
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Verdant Catacombs
Wasteland (2)
Wooded Foothills
5x Swamps
4x Forests
1x Plains

Serge is no stranger to playing land-based strategies, often incorporating “prison” permanents when most appropriate. While most of the silver-bullets are meant to tackle opposing creatures, this shell utilizes multiple graveyard engines to grind out a variety of opponents. The beauty of this build is that (nearly) everything in the deck, profitably interacts with (nearly) everything else available to you. The symmetrical effects often benefit your overall game-state, rather than leaving you in a slightly advantageous position. Discarding a Life from the Loam, or sacrificing an Academy Rector removes the task of recovery from such symmetrical effects. It is often the case, that these offerings then replace themselves with cards more suitable for the current game-state.

One important thing to note, is that there is a common misconception that all “land” decks are looking to accelerate their mana. In truth, the importance lies in the playing of lands, rather than ramping to a specific point.

That said, there are certainly certain land strategies that are looking to hit a critical point through Rampant Growth style effects.

stf64_valakut
#ToTheDome

Ladies, and gentlemen, straight out of Berlin, we have a 4-Colour Scapeshift list from the mind of YouTube and HighlanderMagic.info sensation, Tabrys. Keep in mind, this list was designed with the “European Highlander” format as the focus.

4-Colour Scapeshift – 100 Cards – “European List”/ 12 Points
Tabrys

Artifacts – 1
Sensei’s Divining Top (2)

Creatures – 19
Dimir House Guard
Dryad Arbor
Eternal Witness
Farhaven Elf
Grave Titan
Imperial Recruiter
Inferno Titan
Overgrown Battlement
Primeval Titan
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Snapcaster Mage
Solemn Simulacrum
Sylvan Caryatid
Sylvan Ranger
Thragtusk
Vine Trellis
Wall of Blossoms
Wood Elves
Yavimaya Dryad

Enchantments – 1
Sylvan Library

Instants – 11
Abrupt Decay
Brainstorm
Clutch of the Undercity
Fact or Fiction
Fire // Ice
Intuition (2)
Izzet Charm
Lightning Bolt
Lim-Dul’s Vault
Mystical Teachings
Worldly Tutor

Planeswalkers (2)
Garruk Wildspeaker
Jace, the Mind Sculptor (1)

Sorceries (29)
Arc Trail
Beseech the Queen
Bonfire of the Damned
Cultivate
Damnation
Demonic Tutor
Edge of Autumn
Faithless Looting
Farseek
Firespout
Forked Bolt
Green Sun’s Zenith
Grim Tutor
Inquisition of Kozilek
Into the North
Kodama’s Reach
Life from the Loam
Maelstrom Pulse
Nature’s Lore
Personal Tutor
Ponder
Preordain
Rampant Growth
Recoup
Scapeshift (1)
Search for Tomorrow
Skyshroud Claim
Three Visits
Wheel of Fortune (1)

Tabrys’ build showcases a diverse threat configuration, flexible recovery options (primarily utilized versus opponents with heavy permission or hand-attack) and resilience through recycling resources. The selection of library manipulation and board sweepers, allow for a more steady-as-she-goes approach to victory. Rushing to combo via Dark Depths + Thespian Stage or Valakut + Scapeshift isn’t always your primary concern. Where more traditional Scapeshift builds might falter, this list offers counter-play against decks that simultaneously apply pressure alongside disruption, such as White Weenie or UG Sorenson (Tempo). However, against an unsuspecting opponent, the game can be swept up by an end-step Crop Rotation for either piece of the Thepths 2.0 combo.

It is worth noting that within the European Highlander format, certain cards that would (possibly) preform well within this archetype are currently banned. If one were looking to port this list to a Canadian Highlander meta, please consider some of the following choices:

  • Entomb
  • Gifts Ungiven (2)
  • Mystical Tutor (3)
  • Natural Order (1)
  • Strip Mine (4)

Entomb, Gifts and Strip Mine would allow for additional flexibility, and the possibility for a Scapeshift/Loam hybrid list. Configuring such a list for a competitive scene would require quite a lot of testing, trial and (assuredly) error.  If after reading through these lists, you’ve developed a hankering for some landfall triggers, might I suggest sleeving up something more forgiving to these less learned in the practice of rotating crops.

Other possible colour combinations/strategies could include:

  • Naya Ramp w/ Loam + Scapeshift
  • Bant Tapout Control
  • BG Loam Engine

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The Deep End

Something to keep in mind, is that while the strategies listed both utilize lands much more so than your typical archetype, they aren’t limiting themselves to relying solely on them as a route to victory. It is important to have options when approaching deck construction, as not every game goes as planned. Being open-minded towards all aspects of your colour(s), will ultimately be more rewarding than creating fictitious limitations. In addition, don’t feel as though what you are doing is boring or not interactive. Different people enjoy different aspects of the game. That is what makes Magic such an enjoyable experience. Be it with an indestructible 20/20, or by wasting away all their lands.

Remember, it doesn’t have to be pretty. It just has to work.

Cheers,

Benjamn

Wildfire Walk with Me

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Earlier this week, local cube draft aficionado and overall great guy Trenton McIntyre asked me if I had any thoughts on the topic of Wildfire strategies in Highlander. Unbeknown to Trenton, Wildfire has garnered me more Highlander titles than any other particular card/strategy. So rather than explaining my adoration of the six mana sorcery to him in person, I decided to select it as the central point of my premiere deck-tech. More specifically, I will be focusing on a five-coloured variant, as requested. However, this time around, there will be no Time Vault in sight.

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Maelstrom Wanderer (aka Big Daddy) will also be sitting on the bench.

The Points – 14 Total

  • Crucible of Worlds (1)
  • Winter Orb (1)
  • Jace, the Mind Sculptor (1)
  • Wasteland (2)
  • Oath of Druids (2)
  • Tolarian Academy (3)
  • Strip Mine (4)

Rather than utilizing our points on explosive mana (Mana Vault, Sol Ring, Mishra’s Workshop), spreading the wealth into various facets of the deck helps create more consistent draws. This is the mentality I prefer to adapt when designing and piloting a strategy. Pick a game plan, and stick to it.

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Game Plan

The overall strategy draws heavy influence from the Wildfire decks of yore. Develop a board-state where the (supposed) symmetrical effects of cards such as Armaggedon, Wildifre or Catastrophe have little to no impact on our path to victory. This is achieved by overwhelming the opponent through fast-mana (typically supplied from artifacts), and cost-efficient threats that can withstand both opposing removal and our own sweepers. The icing on the cake? Back-breaking land destruction effects, and alongside forms of (virtual) card advantage.

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Threats

Unfortunately, Covetous Dragon and Masticore haven’t exactly withstood the test of time. They are far too easily disposed, and serve as mediocre recovery threats at best. So, what’s the upgrade? Wizards has since introduced a ludicrously powerful card type that fits perfectly into the void in our hearts. Planeswalkers. They’re mean, they’re absurdly flexible, and they’re quite difficult to deal with when there are no creatures on the battlefield. They also conveniently pay no mind to whether or not the ground around them has turned into a scorched mess. Planeswalkers are the key to the success of this deck in Highlander. I’ve played anywhere from under ten (different) copies to 20+, and can safely say, “the more, the merrier”.

The best part is, since we’re (safely) playing a five-colour manabase, we get to pick from the cream of the crop. We’re going to be looking for ‘Walkers than can do any of the following:

  • Protect themselves or us
  • Generate (virtual) card advantage
  • Efficiently utilize all abilities

Following these guidelines, we can narrow our selection down to the following:

Ajani Vengeant – Red/White
Chandra Nalaar – Red
Chandra, Pyromaster – Red
Elspeth, Knight-Errant – White
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion – White
Garruk Relentless – Green
Gideon Jura – White
Jace, Architect of Thought – Blue
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – Blue
Karn Liberated – Colourless
Liliana Vess – Black
Liliana of the Veil – Black
Ral Zarek – Blue/Red
Sorin Markov – Black
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad – Black/White
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage – Blue
Tezzeret the Seeker – Blue
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas – Blue/Black
Vraska the Unseen – Green/Black

While your configuration can certainly be customized to your personal preference, I would stay away from ‘Walkers that directly interact with creatures on our side of the battlefield, as Tokens will be your only consistent source of “threats on legs”. Other Planeswalkers up for consideration include:

Chandra, the Firebrand
Elspeth, Tirel
Garruk Wildspeaker
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Venser, the Sojourner

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Hit ’em Where it Hurts

Now that we have our primary threats covered, let’s move onto the section of cards most likely to cause your opponent to let out an exasperated sigh. These are the cards that your opponent wishes they had saved a counter-spell for. Resolving one of these can often mean “game-over”, but be sure to save a follow up option just in case.

Armageddon
Bribery
Burning of Xinye (Alt: Destructive Force)
Catastrophe
Ravages of War (Alt: Decree of Pain)
Supreme Verdict
Upheaval
Wildfire

In previous versions of this list, I ran into trouble with dealing with single-target threats that demand immediate answer. Thankfully, within the past year we’ve received some goodies that fit that role.

Abrupt Decay
Detention Sphere
Punishing Fire

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Reduce, Reuse, Ramp and Recycle

Unsurprisingly, this deck is chock-full of cards that accelerate our mana in a deceptively powerful fashion. Permanent based acceleration does come at a slight risk (you’re more susceptible to removal), but these cards end up carrying more benefits than what is stated in their text box. With Tolarian Academy, each mana-rock (indirectly) adds an additional mana. Tezzeret(s) transforms our boring ol’ signets into 5/5 beaters. Trading Post does, well…, um…., Trading Post is Trading Post. It does everything. You get much more out of these cards (especially in conjuncture with mass land destruction) than you would from any Rampant Growth effect. Without further ado, let’s prove we got the stones for such a task.

Boros Signet
Chromatic Lantern
Chrome Mox
Coalition Relic
Golgari Signet
Grim Monolith
Izzet Signet
Mind Stone
Mox Diamond
Mox Opal
Orzhov Signet
Simic Signet
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Impulse
Talisman of Indulgence
Talisman of Progress
Talisman of Unity
Worn Powerstone

That’s 18 mana rocks there, with a majority of them costing two mana or less. While it seems excessive, our main goal is to resolve a Planeswalker on turns two and/or three. Such a large number of accelerants helps us achieve this. While the signet/talisman configuration might not be perfect, with proper sequencing of lands, colour fixing becomes a non-issue.

Speaking of lands, let’s quickly covered our “special action” manabase. This category will be divided across the individual purposes of each land. That said, there are only two options below. Colour-fixing and Utility. For the record, we are running 36 lands total.

Colour-fixing
Arid Mesa
Bloodstained Mire
Flooded Strand
Marsh Flats
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Scalding Tarn
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Badlands
Bayou
Plateau
Savannah
Scrubland
Taiga
Tropical Island
Tundra
Underground Sea
Volcanic Island
City of Brass
Gemstone Caverns
Gemstone Mine
Glimmervoid
Tendo Ice Bridge
Grove of the Burnwillows
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Grove and Urborg both have applications outside of assisting to cast multicoloured spells, but first and foremost they’re included essentially as free dual-lands.

Utility
Academy Ruins
Ancient Tomb
City of Traitors
Darksteel Citadel
Flagstones of Trokair
Horizon Canopy
Strip Mine
Tolarian Academy
Wasteland

The “Sol-Lands” are considered utility, as they create a form of sequencing disruption for your opponent. Typically, you can pace your opponents natural mana progression at +1 per turn. This can cause players to fall into the pattern of expecting specific cards on specific turns (e.g. If you’re sitting at two mana, it isn’t likely that you will be casting a Planeswalker or a Wrath effect the following turn). Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors and Tolarian Academy throw a wrench in that perceived progression, allowing you to catch players off-guard. The remaining cards either provide a reusable source of land destruction (via Crucible of Worlds and/or Life from the Loam) or further assist in your (minimal) recovery “post-geddon”.

Since that’s now covered, let’s finish off this section by taking a peek at our “Staxx” effects. These cards allow us to grind out our opponents, while maintaining an unaffected board presence. More often than not, these cards all provide various engines allowing us to recycle powerful effects into the late game, so as not to run out of gas. Tutor effects will be included in this section, as most of them will regularly be fetching up powerful stranglehold effects.

Batterskull
Crucible of Worlds
Crumbling Sanctuary
Meekstone
Mindslaver
Smokestack
Sword of the Meek
Thopter Foundry
Trading Post
Winter Orb

Tainted Pact
Fabricate
Life from the Loam
Transmute Artifact

The elegance of playing many of these cards with seemingly narrow effects is that they can often be converted into other resources more suited to the situation at hand.

Now, it appears as though we are two cards short of the legal 100. We also have an extra two points kicking around. No creatures to be found? Oh, here’s an idea…

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Boo!

An Oath…

of Druids that is! Yes, Oath of Druids and Emrakul will be the final two cards for our Wildfire build. Why? Well, for starters, the combo requires very little construction dedication, as we have no room for creatures as it is. If our opponent ends up having more creatures than us, they better hope they have an answer to the flying spaghetti monster. If they don’t have any creatures, this is typically the result of a Wildfire resolving, which (hopefully) means we’re winning already. If they do however answer Emrakul, we are able to take advantage of a resolved Oath trigger in a variety of ways. ThopterSword, PunishingGrove or Loam/Crucible Lock are prime examples of ways to turn that frown upside down.

Of course, putting Emrakul in your deck does run you the risk of stranding the 15 mana creature in your hand. That said, the possibility of casting him/her/it isn’t entirely unrealistic, between Academy and other mana accelerants. This should not be your top priority however, as it isn’t a common situation.

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Where the Odds are Smokestacked Against Us

Traditionally I’ve had difficulties with decks containing a large amount of counterspells. Control strategies aren’t so daunting, as you can often amass a ludicrous amount of mana without any pressure from the opposing side. Not to mention a little (uncounterable) land destruction can go a long way. Tempo strategies on the other hand, can be quite a pain in the rear. Dishing out a reliable clock backed with permission has proven to be quite the nightmare. On the play, it isn’t as bad, as you can often overwhelm them before they resolve any sort of threat, but even then it can prove to be quite the task. Certain Red/Green based strategies have the ability to hate us out of a game, between various shatter effects and the unrelenting aggressive paired with them.

Does all this matter? Nope! Even in your worst match-ups, attempting to slam as many Planeswalkers as you can will often end in your favor. More on the cautious side? Stockpile your resources, and attempt to cast multiple spells a turn. This archetype will typically outlast most stalemates, as you run more mana sources than most.

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Alternatives

Originally I ran a list which utilized Cascade creatures as answers to opposing Planeswalkers, and sources of value. Even lower CMC cards such as Shardless Agent and Bloodbraid Elf would turn into clones of Wood Elves or even Rune-Scarred Demons. Times change, and so do the rules of Magic. Now, everybody gets to have their very own Planeswalker, and typically we use our copies much better than other archetypes. That said, Cascade Staxx is still very much a viable option, and quite possibly the most fun that can be had in Highlander. While this current points configuration cannot do so, nothing beats the god-draw of a turn two Maelstrom Wanderer, cascading into both Karn Liberated and Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Yes, I said turn two, and yes, it has happened.

As for slightly budget options, well, this isn’t exactly a deck that transitions well for a budgeted alternative. I have however provided slight variants on hard to find Portal: Three Kingdoms cards such as Ravages of War and Burning of Xinye. While they are very, VERY strong cards to have at your disposal, they aren’t entirely necessary.

Thank you for reading through my first (published) deck-tech. If you would like me to cover a specific archetype, or colour combination, feel free to either message me, comment or post on the Facebook page.

5C Wildfire Staxx – 100 Cards – 14 Points

Artifacts – 28
Batterskull
Boros Signet
Chromatic Lantern
Chrome Mox
Coalition Relic
Crucible of Worlds (1)
Crumbling Sanctuary
Golgari Signet
Grim Monolith
Izzet Signet
Meekstone
Mind Stone
Mindslaver
Mox Diamond
Mox Opal
Orzhov Signet
Simic Signet
Smokestack
Sword of the Meek
Talisman of Dominance
Talisman of Impulse
Talisman of Indulgence
Talisman of Progress
Talisman of Unity
Thopter Foundry
Trading Post
Winter Orb (1)
Worn Powerstone

Creatures – 1
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Enchantment – 2
Detention Sphere
Oath of Druids (2)

Instant – 3
Abrupt Decay
Punishing Fire
Tainted Pact

Planeswalker – 19
Ajani Vengeant
Chandra Nalaar
Chandra Pyromaster
Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Garruk Relentless
Gideon Jura
Jace, Architect of Thought
Jace, the Mind Sculptor (1)
Karn Liberated
Liliana Vess
Liliana of the Veil
Ral Zarek
Sorin Markov
Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Tezzeret the Seeker
Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Vraska, the Unseen

Sorceries – 11
Armageddon
Bribery
Burning of Xinye (Alt: Destructive Force)
Catastrophe
Fabricate
Life from the Loam
Ravages of War
Supreme Verdict
Transmute Artifact
Upheaval
Wildfire

Lands – 36
Academy Ruins
Ancient Tomb
Arid Mesa
Badlands
Bayou
Bloodstained Mire
City of Brass
City of Traitors
Darksteel Citadel
Flagstones of Trokair
Flooded Strand
Gemstone Caverns
Gemstone Mine
Glimmervoid
Grove of the Burnwillows
Horizon Canopy
Marsh Flats
Misty Rainforest
Plateau
Polluted Delta
Savannah
Scalding Tarn
Scrubland
Strip Mine (4)
Taiga
Tendo Ice Bridge
Tolarian Academy (3)
Tropical Island
Tundra
Underground Sea
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Verdant Catacombs
Volcanic Island
Wasteland (2)
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills

Notable Synergies:

 

  • Crucible of Worlds/Life from the Loam + Strip Mine/Wasteland/Horizon Canopy
  • Mindslaver + Academy Ruins
  • Thopter Foundry + Sword of the Meek
  • Oath of Druids + Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
  • Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows
  • Planeswalkers + Wildifre/Armageddon

 

Cheers,

Benjamin

 

Consider the Following

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Before the Vote

It’s about that time again. Points Discussion! Where emotions flare up, bonds are broken and combo players brace themselves for yet another dagger in their back. Just kidding. You can keep counting your storm, because aggro is the current boogie man of the hour. Why, you ask? Well, head on over to “2013 in Review: The Highlander Points List – Part 3. Moving Forward” and take a gander at some of the many reasons why creatures with CMC (converted mana cost) three or less need their grip loosened sooner, rather than later.

….Done?

Good!

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How?

For starters, instead of solely attacking aggressive strategies, let’s try to encourage players to compete using alternative strategies. The healthiest approach to this would include trimming the cost of many Value cards that seem out of place as restricted cards. Allowing other archetypes the flexibility to address an aggro-centric format, without making a staggering amount of sacrifices in customization.

Here are some of the changes I propose. NOTE: Not all of these changes have to be made. They are just possible options to consider.

Increases:

  • Black Lotus – 6 to 7
  • Goblin Recruiter – 1 to 3
  • Mox Emerald – 3 to 4
  • Mox Jet – 3 to 4
  • Mox Pearl – 3 to 4
  • Mox Ruby – 3 to 4
  • Mox Sapphire – 3 to 4
  • Natural Order – 1 to 2
  • Strip Mine – 4 to 5
  • Umezawa’s Jitte – 2 to 3

Black Lotus:
I’ve mentioned before that I was surprised to have discovered that Yawgmoth’s Will was added to the points list. It all seemed so out of place, as the increase was geared towards stunting the dominance of combo decks that relied heavily on Lotus for every possible build, where as certain Doomsday configurations have other suitable (and sometimes more powerful) options. After getting an opportunity to play Lotus in both “unfair” (Storm, Doomsday, etc) strategies and “fair” strategies (Mono Green), it seems quite deserving of a points increase alongside a simultaneous decrease of Yawgmoth’s Will.

Goblin Recruiter:
Goblins has shown that it can function at full throttle without any points (with the current list, you can say it had 1 point). So, why jump from 1 to 3. Well, because 2 points does little to nothing to contain the power of Krenko’s army. Placing Recruiter at 3 creates a situation in which sacrifices (however minimal they may be) must be made.

Mox (Emerald, Jet, Pearl, Ruby, Sapphire):
Let’s face it, the “Moxen” are disgustingly powerful in multiples. Moxen are also most at home alongside cheap efficient threats. There’s a simple solution to this, and it is quite an elegant one at that. Abolish the “Multiple Mox Taxation” and raise all of the Moxen to 4 points. Players are still able to dedicate almost all of their points towards the zero mana artifacts, but the remaining two points require more thought than slamming any of the lower pointed cards into your build.

Natural Order:
This card is disgustingly powerful. While the situation created by Tinker is often dire, you are typically left with one or two turns to provide an answer. Natural Order on the other hand typically ends the game on the turn it is cast. Craterhoof not lethal? You have plenty of other flexible options to snag for any given situation. I could go on and on about the depth of this particular card in Highlander, but I’ve got a whole article planned for that.

Strip Mine:
Unlike Wasteland, Strip Mine allows for zero counter-play outside of leading off of Darksteel Ctiadel, Flagstones of Trokair, or by sitting back on a fetchland. Strip Mine leads to incredibly lop-sided games at very little cost or commitment from the user. While unfortunately unavailable, it would be interesting to take a look at the percentage of games won after having successfully “stripped” an opponents land on turns 1 to 3. Much like other cards featured in this section, Strip needs additional restraint in order to create more conscious deck-building decisions that are appropriate to its power-level.

Umezawa’s Jitte:
It slices, it dices, it absolutely dominates a match-up featuring creatures (See: Most games played). The strength, flexibility and board dominance of this card are not akin to other cards sitting at two points. Jitte (math) is not fun, and (as developers), fun is something that must be taken into consideration when cultivating a format.

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Decreases:

  • Moat – 1 to 0
  • Recurring Nightmare – 2 to 1
  • Sensei’s Divining Top – 2 to 1
  • Scapeshift – 1 to 0
  • Yawgmoth’s Will – 1 to 0

Moat:
Moat feels so incredibly out of place on the list. Every colour combination, strategy and (realistically competitive) configuration has potent answers to this Legends enchantment.  There are many strategies where the card itself is completely dead, and it offers little to no advantage in many control and combo match-ups. In my opinion, Moat does not fit any of the (ideal) qualifications for the being on the points list.

Recurring Nightmare:
While Recurring Nightmare certainly has Combo applications, more often than not it finds home in midrange shells. The card itself is quite clunky, and somewhat vulnerable as it interacts with multiple zones at sorcery speed. Lowering Nightmare would not warp the format by any means, and could possibly bring a resurgence to an interesting (and nowadays somewhat niche) pocket of the format. It is fast? No. Does it tutor? No. Can it combo? Yes. Are we removing it from the list entirely? No.

Sensei’s Divining Top:
Frankly, I don’t feel I would do this argument justice. I have no idea how this card ended up being two points, after such a controversy surrounding its placement on the points list. May I direct your attention towards the Facebook group listed in the Resources section of the website if you wish to create/find discussion on the topic.

Scapeshift:
This seems to be a forgotten relic of an ancient time. Given the distinct decorative markings, it seems as though it stems from the era of Grindstone and Life from the Loam seeing place on the list. Somewhat clunky, requires some sort of dedication as far as deck construction goes to even deal the bare minimum of damage (albeit that damage is worth 18 points of life). I can certainly see an argument for keeping this card on the list. Hell, even while writing this section, I feel more inclined to delete what I have written and leave this card out of the article. Welp.

Yawgmoth’s Will:
The section on Black Lotus covered this. Anti-climatic, I know.

mm44_balance

Overall Rules:

  • Multiple Mox Taxation Removal
  • Ban Flash

Multiple Mox Taxation:
I had already mentioned this within the section for the various Moxen. By increasing the overall points of each Moxen, we are able to safely removal a somewhat confusing rule. This helps streamline the rules, and helps gear Highlander towards a more elegant structure.

Ban Flash:
Realistically, Flash is (near) unplayable in any format while remaining not partnered up with Protean Hulk. Much like removing the Moxen rule, this is a more traditional and clean solution to the problem.

With these changes in place, our points list would look like this:

Ancestral Recall – 6
Balance – 2
Birthing Pod – 4
Black Lotus – 7
Crucible of Worlds – 1
Demonic Tutor – 5
Enlightened Tutor – 2
Fastbond – 2
Gifts Ungiven – 3
Goblin Recruiter – 3
Hermit Druid – 5
Imperial Seal – 3
Intuition – 2
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – 1
Library of Alexandria – 3
Mana Crypt – 2
Mana Drain – 2
Mana Vault – 2
Merchant Scroll – 2
Mind Twist – 1
Mishra’s Workshop – 2
Mox Emerald – 4
Mox Jet – 4
Mox Pearl – 4
Mox Ruby – 4
Mox Sapphire – 4
Mystical Tutor – 3
Natural Order – 2
Oath of Druids – 2
Price of Progress – 3
Protean Hulk – 3
Recurring Nightmare – 1
Sensei’s Divining Top – 1
(Scapeshift – 1)
Skullclamp – 4
Sol Ring – 6
Stoneforge Mystic – 1
Strip Mine – 5
Survival of the Fittest – 4
Time Vault – 7
Time Walk – 6
Tinker – 6
Tolarian Academy – 3
Umezawa’s Jitte – 3
Vampiric Tutor – 4
Wasteland – 2
Wheel of Fortune – 1
Winter Orb – 1

* Flash is Banned

Seems good.

Let’s give it a shot? Maybe just a couple? It’s okay, take your time.

Cheers,

Benjamin

2013 in Review: The Highlander Points List – Part 3. Moving Forward

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Paying for Premium

In my first post of the series, I covered the four categories a card featured on the points list could fall under. While the list by no means is perfect, it gives a good idea of where most of the pointed cards fall. Surprisingly, “Value” cards take up a majority of the list. Most of these cards aren’t atrociously overpowered, but there are certainly several that will never be leaving this list.
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You know who you are…

Why should a card be pointed?

Personally, I feel like a format with fewer pointed cards is a better format. Traditionally, Banned & Restricted lists (for Eternal formats) have featured predominately three types of cards.

  • (Reliable) Fast Mana
  • Powerful Tutors
  • Cheap/Efficient Combos

This covers three out of the four categories I covered in my previous dissection of the list. That leaves us with just the “Value” category.

Ancestral Recall (6)
Balance (2)
Crucible of Worlds (1)
Fastbond (2)*
Jace, the Mind Sculptor (1)
Library of Alexandria (3)
Mana Drain (2)
Mind Twist (1)
Moat (1)
Price of Progress (3)
Recurring Nightmare (2)
Sensei’s Divining Top (2)
Skullclamp (4)
Stoneforge Mystic (1)
Strip Mine (4)
Time Walk (6)
Umezawa’s Jitte (2)
Wasteland (2)
Wheel of Fortune (1)
Winter Orb (1)

Again, there are certain cards on here that aren’t really worth touching. Ancestral Recall, Time Walk and Fastbond all come to mind. I feel as though they are all appropriately pointed currently, and aren’t running amok in the format. The risk of lowering the points on these cards seems to out-weight any possible reward.

Having certain cards at one point also adds a sort of elegance to the deck design process. Sure, your decklist might not require you to use all 14 of your points, but when you’re sitting at 13, you might end up asking yourself whether or not your deck gets better with the inclusion of Mind Twist.
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Heading into 2014, if our goal is to streamline Highlander to be the best possible format it can be, we must start by tackling the “Value” cards clogging up our guidebook. Again, I stress the fact that restricting players from slamming cards such as Mind Twist or Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a somewhat necessary limitation in developing an interesting and diverse format. That said, there are certainly certain cards that need not necessarily be included on our list (or so highly pointed). The guilty include:

Balance (2)
Library of Alexandria (3)
Mana Drain (2)
Moat (1)
Recurring Nightmare (2)
Sensei’s Divining Top (2)

Notice a theme? Yes, most of these cards seem quite at home in Control archetypes. Well, as 2013 has shown as, Aggro might be a bit too strong right now.

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Always blame the Nacatls

Attacking Aggro

While I won’t go too deep into the subject (future article material), Aggro certainly has shown itself as the dominating strategy as of late. Frankly, this isn’t that surprising. In the past years, Wizards has cranked the power creep amp all the way up to 11. Power and toughness never looked so good. Creatures now deal more damage, have become much more difficult to deal with, and tend to favour proactive strategies.

Another strength of Aggro stems from the points list itself. While Control decks have a considerable amount of room as far as points customization goes, Aggro gets to dig their claws into nearly everything available within their colour.

Tutors? Find that equipment or situational creature you needed.

Fast Mana? 10+ Dorks available, as well as plenty of Moxen

Value? Hard to find a creature printed in the past three years that wasn’t all about ~V A L U E~

Combo? Have a chat with Melira and see what’s happening!

There’s a whole barrel of reasons as to why Control gets the shaft when it comes to pointed cards (cough cough, combo, cough cough)

Time Flies
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Looking to the future of Highlander shows many great opportunities ahead. The community is more involved than ever, and tournaments are pulling in impressive numbers week after week. The main priority however is not points, or mulligan rules or format tweaking itself, but making sure everyone is on the same page. Keeping every play in-tune with what is going on to avoid any confusion or leaving anyone feeling left out.

Personally, I intend on carrying this project for the remainder of 2014, and would like to share our formats progression with the community every step of the way.

Cheers,

Benjamin

2013 in Review: The Highlander Points List – Part 2. Points Development

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2013 started off with a points list already in effect. The list had been tuned, worked upon, and drastically altered across the experimental trip known as 2012. With the list being functional and tournaments still sporting impressive numbers, the community wasn’t exactly unprepared for the possible advancements of our beloved format. We had something to work off of. We were prepared for anything. Well, anything except Goblins and Storm. That’s a different story entirely though, so let’s get down to the changes that happened across 2013.

January 21st, 2013
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Multiple Mox Taxation
Birthing Pod: 3 increased to 4
Enlightened Tutor: 2 increased to 3
Wheel of Fortune: 2 decreased to 1
Life from the Loam: 2 decreased to 1

Turns out, having a Mox is quite a powerful thing. Having multiple “Moxen” is even scarier. While the recorded winning points spreads might not accurately display the dominance of multiple Moxen, they were devastating to play against. Not much has to be said about the strength of free mana, so let’s cut it off at that.

Other increases include both Enlightened Tutor and Birthing Pod. Tutors are miserable. Repeatable tutors are also, in fact, miserable. Increasing tutors gets the BENJAMIN WHEELER SEAL OF APPROVAL. Decreases include Life from the Loam and Wheel of Fortune. While not exactly fair in certain situations, both cards do require very specific deck construction and board set-up in order to be fully deserving of 2 points.

April 29th, 2013

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Collector’s Edition Legalized
International Edition Legalized
Championship Deck Legalized
Alpha Edition Legalized
Crucible of Worlds: 2 decreased to 1

While only one change was made to the actual pointing of specific cards, “Gold Bordered” cards were finally allowed within the format. The intent was to quash any notions of money being the deciding factor of the format, as well as opening doors for players not entirely comfortably with committing multiple hundreds of dollars on their desired deck. Our European counterparts have allowed gold-borders for quite some time, and seemed appropriate to follow suit.

July 8th, 2013
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Hermit Druid: 3 increased to 5
Black Lotus: 5 increased to 6
Gifts Ungiven: 4 decreased to 3
Price of Progress: 4 decreased to 3
Mishra’s Workshop: 3 decreased to 2
Enlightened Tutor: 3 decreased to 2
Scapeshift: 2 decreased to 1
Natural Order: 2 decreased to 1
Grindstone: 1 decreased to 0

Woah. Change is good. This is a lot of change. “Penny jar on your dresser” amount of change. Hermit Druid made a two point jump; the first time since a certain Workshop pumped out one too many Time Vaults. Since the past points voting, Doomsday combo had been on a tear (courtesy of Brett Frankson), causing Black Lotus to (rightfully) be increased to 6 points.

It is worth noting that late into 2012, the community made a swap from a 7 point system to a 14 point system. This allowed for more flexibility and accuracy when it came to pointing specific cards or strategies. The default change for a subset of cards was to simply double their points. While convenient, it later developed into a situation of many cards being too heavily pointed for their purpose and position in the format. Changes were made to this in the case of Gifts Ungiven, Price of Progress, Scapeshift, etc.

Enlightened Tutor ended up seeing little to no play after being raised to 3 points. The community deemed the inclusion of the card was not “broken” in many ways, shapes or forms. From that, Mirage uncommon found a place in the 2 points club.

September 27th, 2013

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(Author’s Note: Love the art, hate the card.)

Sensei’s Divining Top: 1 increased to 2
Goblin Recruiter: 0 increased to 1
Yawgmoth’s Will: 0 increased to 1
Life from the Loam: 1 decreased to 0
Imperial Seal: 4 decreased to 3

Admittedly, I wasn’t in attendance of many of the tournaments within this particular time frame. That said, through the wonders of social media, community and in-store employment, I could scrape together the Mogg Infestation swarming through the warrens of the community. Goblins were in season. Tim MacInnis was on fire, and not just because his lands typically tapped for red mana. Through multiple victories, flexible deck variations and a sliding points configuration from zero to fourteen, it was time to make an attempt at haulting the goblin assault. Goblin Recruiter finally landed a spot on our points list.

As for Top and Yawgmoth’s Will. To this day, I am genuinely surprised at these increases. Makes me regret taking some time off from the format.

Moving Forward
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One of the many reasons why Magic is such a great game (no matter the format), is because a player can develop strong connections particular strategies, cards, colours, etc. Many players end up being able to identify as a “Control player” or a “Red Mage”, and their deck choices and card selections more often than not reflect that. This then leads to a personalization aspect of the game, and particularly eternal formats such as Highlander. You can head into a tournament playing the colour(s) you want, the cards you want, with the goal you’ve set for yourself. It is an incredible feeling that I encourage anybody that has even the slightest amount of connection towards to latch on and let it run rampant.

This is a feeling that is shared between players, be they casual, competitive or professional. By professional, I’m not just talking about the iconic players of the game, but about the designers, researchers and developers of Wizards of the Coast. These individuals also connect with the game on a variety of personal levels, but (as I’ve discussed with several) they never let it affect their work. They take a look at these things on an objective level, rather than letting personal feels tamper with the power level of a card/format. Sure, if a set designed by Ken Nagel has a central theme of “Large Creatures”, then he will probably feel inclined to push one or two of these “fatties” to a greater power level than previously achieved. If in testing the card turns out to be a mistake, and such an addition proves to be harmful to a format, I’m sure his devotion to green would not get in the way of his professionalism when dealing with the situation.

What can we make of this?

Do not let personal feelings or attachments to specific cards or strategies get in the way of designing an ideal (and balanced) points list for the format. In addition, do not let the monetary value of a card affect its position on the points list.

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Another issue to note, is the formatting in which the voting takes places. With (unfortunately) little to no discussion taking place leading up to the voting, many Highlander players are left going into the event somewhat unprepared. This in combination with personal opinions towards specific people, players, ideas, etc. has lead to somewhat uncomfortable situations for many when it comes to voting. The unfortunate truth is that there are individuals that believe the current system benefits the ideas brought forth by those more adept at public speaking, than those that truly benefit the format. Whether or not that this is indeed the case, it is something worth addressing.

The Council: 

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What I am suggesting is not unfamiliar territory. It has been done before, but we can rebuild. We have the technology. Something bigger, stronger, faster and more active than previous attempts.

A Highlander Council responsible for the rules, construction, points list and organization of the (Canadian) Highlander format.

  • The Council would generate discussion amongst the community at a consistent pace. Ensuring the concerns of each player be addressed and taken into consideration.
  • While the community would still voice their opinions on topics such as “Points List Discussion”, the council would have the final word on any changes made to the rules of the format.
  • As opposed to the previous 3 member council, the new incarnation would have anywhere from 4-6 (experienced) members.
  • Each discussion and voting period would follow a systematic and scheduled process, to avoid any confusion amongst the community.

To me, this is the ideal way of handling the development of a format such as Highlander.

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This marks the end of Part 2, but I will cap off this series with a conclusion article on possible points/format changes to discuss or consider when coming into 2014.

Cheers,

Benjamin

2013 in Review: The Highlander Points List – Part 1. Overview

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2013:

Quite an interesting and eye-opening year for our home-grown format, wouldn’t you agree? Throughout the year, our community seemingly made the best of efforts to showcase the organic nature of eternal magic to the (various) extremes.

However, before we get into that, let’s take a look at the points list we ended the year with:

Points List of 2013

Ancestral Recall – 6
Balance – 2
Birthing Pod – 4
Black Lotus – 6
Crucible of Worlds – 1
Demonic Tutor – 5
Enlightened Tutor – 2
Fastbond – 2
Gifts Ungiven – 3
Goblin Recruiter – 1
Hermit Druid – 5
Imperial Seal – 3
Intuition – 2
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – 1
Library of Alexandria – 3
Mana Crypt – 2
Mana Drain – 2
Mana Vault – 2
Merchant Scroll – 2
Mind Twist – 1
Mishra’s Workshop – 2
Moat – 1
Mox Emerald – 3*
Mox Jet – 3*
Mox Pearl – 3*
Mox Ruby – 3*
Mox Sapphire – 3*
Mystical Tutor – 3
Natural Order – 1
Oath of Druids – 2
Price of Progress – 3
Protean Hulk – 3**
Recurring Nightmare – 2
Sensei’s Divining Top – 2
Scapeshift – 1
Skullclamp – 4
Sol Ring – 6
Stoneforge Mystic – 1
Strip Mine – 4
Survival of the Fittest – 4
Time Vault – 7
Time Walk – 6
Tinker – 6
Tolarian Academy – 3
Umezawa’s Jitte – 2
Vampiric Tutor – 4
Wasteland – 2
Wheel of Fortune – 1
Winter Orb – 1
Yawgmoth’s Will – 1

* The first Mox in any deck only requires 3 points. Every additional (pointed) Mox beyond the first requires 4 points.

* Protean Hulk may not be played in the same deck as Flash

This list was last updated on September 27th, 2013, with Life From the Loam being removed while Goblin Recruiter and Yawgmoth’s Will being the newest additions.

While we unfortunately were unable to catalogue the winning decklist from each event in 2013, we were able to collect the winning points spreads. Using that information, we can show you both the number of times an individual card appeared in a winning deck. That said, take these numbers with a grain of salt, as popularity doesn’t necessarily equate power.

Individual Card Appearances

Sensei’s Divining Top – 27
Jace, the Mind Sculptor – 25
Umezawa’s Jitte – 25
Strip Mine – 20
Winter Orb – 19
Skullclamp – 18
Wasteland – 16
Stoneforge Mystic – 14
Sol Ring – 13
Price of Progress – 12
Survival of the Fittest – 11
Mystical Tutor – 9
Mox Emerald – 8
Mox Pearl – 8
Ancestral Recall – 7
Birthing Pod – 7
Enlightened Tutor – 6
Mana Drain – 6
Mox Jet – 6
Demonic Tutor – 5
Mind Twist – 5
Black Lotus – 4
Goblin Recruiter – 4 (7*)
Mox Ruby – 4
Wheel of Fortune – 4
Hermit Druid – 3
Library of Alexandria – 3
Mox Sapphire – 3
Gifts Ungiven – 2
Moat – 2
Natural Order – 2
Recurring Nightmare – 2
Tolarian Academy – 2
Time Walk – 2
Mana Crypt – 1
Mana Vault – 1
Vampiric Tutor – 1
Balance – 0
Crucible of Worlds – 0
Intuition – 0
Imperial Seal – 0
Merchant Scroll – 0
Mishra’s Workshop – 0
Oath of Druids – 0
Protean Hulk – 0
Scapeshift – 0
Time Vault – 0
Tinker – 0
Yawgmoth’s Will – 0 (4**)

* While Goblin Recruiter was featured in seven winning decklists, it was only for the final four victories that it was on the points list.

** While Yawgmoth’s Will was featured in four winning decklists, at the time of each victory it was currently unpointed.

Now, what does this all mean? Frankly, not that much. What these numbers do mean will however be covered in Part 2 of “2013 in Review: The Highlander Points List”.

To close out this post, let’s quickly dissect our points list. I mulled over the various possible categorizations I could use, and eventually abandoned my three columned system for a more descriptive four columned version.

Essentially, every card can be divided into one (sometimes multiple) of the following categories:

Fast Mana – 13 Cards:
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I’m sure this particular category needs no real introduction. Mana is essential to the game (in before Dredge comments). “Fast Mana” on the other hand, is quite dangerous. If a player commits to casting an artifact for two mana that accelerates their possible mana by an additional count on the following turn, sure. Go ahead. Seems fine. If a player drops a Mox (or two) on turn one,  to follow up with a threat of sorts that should never realistically be possible of casting, then we have a problem.

Black Lotus (6)
Fastbond (2)*
Mana Crypt (2)
Mana Drain (2)*
Mana Vault (2)
Mishra’s Workshop (2)
Mox Emerald (3)
Mox Jet (3)
Mox Pearl (3)
Mox Ruby (3)
Mox Sapphire (3)
Sol Ring (6)
Tolarian Academy (3)

*Mana Drain at times can end up being simply a Counterspell. Other times, it turns into Counterspell meets Thran Dynamo.

Tutors – 15 Cards:

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When I say “Tutors”, I’m not necessarily talking about cards such as Diabolic Tutor or Chord of Calling. I’m more so referring to cards that are inappropriately priced. An investment of 2BB at sorcery speed for any card in your library is acceptable, even by modern standards. 1B for the exact same effect however, is not.

Birthing Pod (4)
Demonic Tutor (5)
Enlightened Tutor (2)
Gifts Ungiven (3)
Goblin Recruiter (1)
Imperial Seal (3)
Intuition (2)
Merchant Scroll (2)
Mystical Tutor (3)
Natural Order (1)
Protean Hulk (3)*
Stoneforge Mystic (1)**
Survival of the Fittest (4)
Tinker (6)
Vampiric Tutor (4)

* Protean Hulk is more at home in the upcoming “Combo” category, but there are certainly applications of using Hulk as a utility card in dire situations. It is for this reason that Hulk lands a spot in the “Tutor” category, while Scapeshift does not.

** Stoneforge Mystic. while a cheap tutor, rarely ends up finding a game-ending cog for a specific convoluted engine. It more than often, fills the role of a “Value” card, finding an appropriate piece of equipment for whichever the situation at hand may be.

Value – 19 Cards:

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I know what you’re thinking. There’s so much Value. Yes, it is quite a popular category. It is also the easier category to look towards when trimming cards/points is the topic at hand. Similar to the “Tutors” section, most of these cards have mana costs or deck construction requirements that seem ludicrous by modern expectations.

Ancestral Recall (6)
Balance (2)
Crucible of Worlds (1)
Fastbond (2)*
Jace, the Mind Sculptor (1)
Library of Alexandria (3)
Mana Drain (2)
Mind Twist (1)
Moat (1)
Price of Progress (3)
Recurring Nightmare (2)
Sensei’s Divining Top (2)
Skullclamp (4)
Stoneforge Mystic (1)
Strip Mine (4)
Time Walk (6)
Umezawa’s Jitte (2)
Wasteland (2)
Wheel of Fortune (1)
Winter Orb (1)

* Fastbond: While the end result is typically a “Combo”, it isn’t your broadband sort of situation. The engine develops at dial-up speed. We’re talking 20 kbit/s here.

Combo – 10 Cards:

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Cards in this section are typically all you need to pull a win. Sure, they require some form of thought during deck construction, but these are the cards that pull the weight.

Fastbond (2)
Goblin Recruiter (1)*
Hermit Druid (5)
Natural Order (1)*
Oath of Druids (2)
Protean Hulk (3)
Scapeshift (1)
Time Vault (7)
Tinker (6)*
Yawgmoth’s Will (1)

Recruiter, Tinker and Natural Order: While these three cards all end up tutoring a specific card/set of cards, more often than not, upon resolution the game is over. Sure, fighting through it is certainly possible, but you’re in for one hell of an up-hill battle.

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Reviewing the points list in this fashion gives us a better idea of the various deck construction restrictions we have implemented for the format. Looking forward, it can assist us in trimming points off of specific categories geared towards specific strategies.

In Part 2, possible changes for the points list will be covered, as well as a recommended mentality voters should adapt when simultaneously playing and developing a budding format.

Cheers,

Benjamin