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