Set Review – Conspiracy

New microphone in action. Quick little diddy on Conspiracy. Unfortunately not a huge selection, but that’s understandable given the design circumstances. Look forward to a Deck Tech later tonight.

Cheers

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Set Review – Born of the Gods

Reviewing the cards with potential from Born of the Gods, as well as an overview of the set. I apologize for the sound quality, as I don’t have an ideal microphone, and I’m coming off from a week-long illness.

Feel free to ask questions, voice comments or concerns.

Looking to make more videos in the future. Hopefully with better equipment available.

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