Monday, 23 August 2010

Tournament Report - 15 Card Highlander

By Wagz

Hi all, my exit from nationals was fairly swift this year after drawing terribly against a good matchup and facing 2 of the 5 pyromancer ascension decks in the room to go 1-3 into draft 1. A risky strategy and a loss later and I packed them up. This left me a lot of time to (immediately let off steam and) check out the side events. I borrowed a combo elves deck for the Vintage championship the next morning and after handily beating Dredge round 1 I faced 3 workshop decks who made turn 1 chalice of the void for 1 every game. After such tedium I decided I wanted to get involved with a much more fun format - 15 card Highlander.

The premise of it is similar to 100 card Highlander, your deck can have only 1 of any card which is not a basic land. However, you must have precisely 15 cards in your deck, a sideboard of 3 cards, and you don't lose the game to drawing from an empty library. It immediately became apparent that you will often draw nearly every card in your deck and if you have the right number of lands then your draws will be very smooth. Additionally, you want as many cards which interact with your opponent as possible - manlands are much better than other lands, preordain and ponder should only be played for a very particular reason or you are playing with a deck with less than 15 cards that do anything.

My first attempt at a deck was as follows:

Halimar Depths
2 Mountain
Scalding Tarn
Tome Scour
Hedron Crab
Elixir of Immortality
Lightning Bolt
Flame Slash
Relic of Progenitus
Howling Mine
Mana Leak

The deck was a bit degenerate - it had Tome Scour and Hedron Crab to immediately mill away the opponent's deck and Mana Leak, Flame Slash and Lightning Bolt to deal with the threats they try to play. Ponder and Preordain are basically Demonic Tutor in the deck to find the answers it needs. Having eliminated the opponents threats it can set up its own graveyard to be rid of the mill spells, then the mana leak and later the ponder, preordain and flame slash so that using the howling mine it can use its 4 mana-producing lands to draw lightning bolt and elixir of immortality every turn, dealing the opponent 3 and taking 5.

I ran to tell Jason Howlett, Tim Willoughby and Rich Hagon about my deck and soon enough Tome Scour, Hedron Crab and Elixir of Immortality formed the banned list. Mark Glenister suggested they add Mind Funeral as well and we were all set to play a much fairer format. Since my deck was banned, Seb Parker and I audibled to a deck built by Mick Edwards:

Ancient Ziggurat
Seaside Citadel
Stirring Wildwood
2 Forest
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Qasali Pridemage
Garruk's Companion
Jenara, Asura of War
Rhox War Monk
Leatherback Baloth
Rafiq of the Many
Vines of Vastwood
Oblivion Ring
Path to Exile
White Leyline
Elspeth, Knight-Errant

We weren't quite sure what to prepare for in the board and took a gamble with the Elspeth but the other 2 cards seemed pretty good. We have a nice array of abilities on our creatures and some which are really hard to answer so hopefully we'd always have something to do to beat our opponent.

Round 1 I play against a mono-black deck with some nice vampires. He gets Guul Draz Assassin down turn 1 every game but I always use my removal spell on it. My mana guys are fuel for his Gatekeeper of Malakir and after boarding my other removal spell takes care of his Grave Titan. He has Reassembling Skeleton and Malakir Bloodwitch which threaten to stem my beats but the Garruk's Companion's Trample is super relevant. He has a Royal Assassin but it was too slow and my Vines of Vastwood would provide 1 turn of safety if I need it. I take the match due to Trample and Rafiq.

Round 2 was against a Burn deck and it becomes immediately obvious that if I can set up Rhox War Monk and Vines of Vastwood then I probably win because he only has so much damage he can deal and spending 2 cards twice to deal with a War Monk plus the 3 life I gain is likely to negate his entire deck. My Path over my O-Ring in boarding kills a Ball Lightning or a Hell's Thunder which significantly reduces the damage he can deal. I win the match.

Round 3 comes and I am paired against Seb Parker in the mirror. We agree a prize split and he wins the roll and then game 1. I mull to 5 game 2 after drawing only Forests for mana and so lose that one as well, the deck is 4-0 at this point though.

In round 4 my opponent is Stuart Wright and I knew he had a Grixis Titans deck he was brewing up. It is a good idea as they are the most powerful creatures you can hardcast in the format, but you immediately have to play a lot of lands to cast them so you lose some card advantage straight away when you draw all those lands. I make a few punty errors like trampling over a 2/1 for 1 with my 3/2 and not tapping a noble hierarch for green mana when it gets pyroclasmed so I am unable to save my Rafiq from a Lightning Bolt. Despite my retardedness I take the match as my deck has too many threats for him to answer and I am able to throw away excess mana to his Blightning and Liliana's Specter.

My final opponent had a cool Naya Destructive Force deck which abused Garruk, Sun Titan and Dauntless Escort to be really one-sided. Unfortunately for him I, as Seb had the round before me, figured out that I had 1 4-mana spell and 7 mana sources in my deck so if I only played out half my mana before the Force I would easily negate it. Plus my Oblivion Ring would deal with the Sun Titan and I could attack the Garruk with an evasive creature so his card quality was then worse than mine.

I ended up going 4-1 and Seb went undefeated with the same deck, so we took 1st and 2nd places in the 20-odd man event. It was a really excellent format as every card counts and you have to save cards for very particular roles. There is very little variance to decks so you should only play as many lands as you need and having cards which do more than 1 thing will significantly increase the amount of play you have. I'm probably going to run the format as the 5th Wednesday event next month in Leeds and might even show up to WNM with a few decks for people to pick up between rounds and have a go. Give it a try - it's very rewarding!


  1. gratz to you and Seb! It's nice to feel like I won an event without even playing in it ;)
    I talked to Ste Porrit about the deck a bit afterwards and he suggested adding Emerge unscathed as a similar counterspell like vines only giving situational unblockability instead of +4/+4. It's odd that im still thinking about this format.

  2. this seems like a very fun format, would love to try it at WNM :)

  3. Emerge Unscathed only targets creatures you control, Vines gives you game against Polymorph. I think the Bant sideboard should be Path, Dauntless Escort and Meddling Mage.

  4. round 1: jund (he didn't put enough mana in his deck so he mulliganed a lot and then missed land drops)
    round 2: GR tokens/eldrazi monument (he hadn't put much thought into the deck and we discussed how to improve it while playing)
    round 3: Rob (a very skill intensive mirror match)
    round 4: Destructive Force (his deck was a little slow and he wasted his garruk. He did have some wins off the back of platinum angel though)
    round 5: Burn (he had lost to Rob earlier and was dismayed to find out I was playing the same deck.)

    I didn't lose a single game.
    I definitely felt like me and rob were playing a tier one deck in a room full of non-tier-decks. (the only ones with potential were stu's and the destructive force deck)
    Fortunately for me, Rob has messy handwriting and when he gave me the decklist I had misread seaside citadel as sunpetal grove. This did actually help me though, as it means that if you play for it, your 3rd land drop doesn't come into play tapped very often at all - which is great for casting rafiq.
    My sideboard was path, master of the wild hunt, meddling mage.