First steps in Highlander 93/94

I don’t remember why, but at some point I thought I wanted to try some Singleton 93/94. Maybe Bjørn talked me into it, maybe DFB, probably both. Anyways as I was considering it, I felt as if the gates opened : no more omnipresent removal, which means creatures become much better ! That’s a very different game now.

DFB gave me a few beginner’s tips, like what are in his opinion the staples of the format (I think he told me something like Icy Manipulator, Jayemdae Tome,  Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist), and then I was on my own, having fun trying to figure out a format without the help of netdeck.org . I say format, but there’s no formal definition though. I was told people played without the P10 (power 10, or the power 9 + Library of Alexandria), singleton cards -basics excepted, no commander and a minimum deck size of 60. The first thing I had to think about as I alwways start there is the mana : a single dual land and a single City of Brass legal meant that playing a lot of colours would not come easy. I might be wrong, but my first idea, and the one I’ve been riding on since then was that you still had to try to play two main colours, as I imagined there wouldn’t be enough in a single one to make a decent deck. This meant you could try to be very optimistic and splash a third colour (probably black for Demonic Tutor and Mind Twist, as usual), but that would be it. So I did the small kid thing and build a red-green aggro deck. highlander-9394-rgb-aggro-1.png
Red offers burn and some good flyers mostly, and green has a quite vast array of cheap and relatively efficient bear-sized creatures, along with some mana fixing. Still, with only two multicolored lands to work with, the mana consistency was low for an aggro deck. Goldfishing, it seemed to work about as often as it would fail. Then I went to the other extreme for a control plan. UW based of course, with the black plug.

highlander-9394-ctrl-uw-1.png

As you can see, playing a creature light deck demands some creativity in this format, you have to consider playing cards that you almost didn’t know existed like Gaseous Form or Demonic Torment, along with cards I had already considered but almost never played, like Island of Wak-Wak and Island Sanctuary. The old saying is that Islands are the most powerful cards of the game.. Pitting those first two decks against one another the control deck seemed to have trouble against the aggro one. Sometimes it would draw its Moat in time, sometimes the aggro would struggle for too long with one of its colour unavailable, but overall I liked how aggro seemed to fare against control, as its X-damage spells regularly ended things when control was threatening to stabilize : that’s exactly, the way I see it, how things should be in 93/94, we’d need at least one tier 1 aggro deck that puts enough pressure on The Deck to deprive it of the time required to abuse the tomes (though I don’t think that’s true of the versions that don’t restrict Strip Mine and allow Fallen Empires, like the EC one). In highlander, while the lack of consistency of the mana should be a killer for aggro, it actually seems possible to punish the greed with speed and aggression. It’s a casual format, where you can play all the creatures you wished you could play in constructed (but were afraid to look like a noob), but I’m a control motherfreaker and I’m totally ready to abuse the english language buzzkillers like Moat, The Abyss, or both.  (though really flyers are a big deal in “high94”, so Moat is not at its most hateful there) While I’m a control player at heart, I almost surprised myself putting my mind to a less controlling deck, though I guess it still counts as a control deck :

highlander-9394-rubbery-1.png

I wanted to play the creature game more actively, and since in my first deck ever bought I had found a Control Magic and absolutely loved it, I tried to do a thief theme in so far as I could. Control Magic and Steal Artifact were a clear cut case : in. After that I found my family. Old Man of the Sea has a limited range and his methods are “old school” (read : violent), but he’s the granddaddy and the original gangsta so you have to take him. Father is a Preacher and his church has quite the racket, sometimes extremely profitable, shutting down the opponent’s deck on its lonesome, or sometimes just stealing a 1/1 token : its mileage varies wildly, but that’s not so bad; uncertainty can be loads of fun too. Mother Rubinia might not be as glamorous as Jasmine but she’s a legend among thieves and then there the sweet icing on that stolen cake : just like miss Boreal, she interacts nicely with Karakas (in that since we play white adding the legendary land comes at no cost), and the combo is just too sweet not to include. While it would seem to be too rare an occasion to count on, the format seemed slow enough that it might matter in the long run. Now that we have our family of petty criminals,

Old Man of the Sea.jpg
Happy Families TCG ™

PreacherRubinia Soulsinger

that makes it 5 stealing cards, and our theme isn’t just anecdotal, it’s very much at the core of the deck. Since that means we play some creatures (to steal creatures), The Abyss isn’t to be considered. But Moat ? Well Moat is the only “old” card I envied back then and for some reason couldn’t get for what would have been a reasonable price at the time. I’m talking about 1995, those cards were already old to us then, excepted those from The Dark which we had easy access to (or those reprinted in Revised). I now have a very nice Moat, but haven’t played it much. Moat it is. White and blue give access to some quite nice flyers anyways, though the best color combination for that is probably red-blue, and white really only gives the one flyer but, you know.. Serra.

vs Pelham Bleu

Game 1  he doesn’t have red mana early, but my deck is slow so that doesn’t kill him. The games revolves around my Serendib Djinn. He puts a Paralyze on it, and then I don’t do much more than tapping lands for it, sac’ing land, playing land, tapping Djinn -well except for that Mana Drain right in time to get mana to play an Icy Manipulator, which will be crucial when he plays his Maze of Ith. I get enough lands to do that right untill I can kill him. Lucky me but that wasn’t comfortable. Game 2 eveything is peachy as I have Maze of Ith, Ivory Tower, full hand, Sylvan Library and then Jayemdae Tome. I also draw some of my stealing arsenal, and win with my opponent’s Sengir Vampire. Third game, again a Paralyze on a Serendib, this time of the efreet kind, but still quite the the thorn in my highlander side those Serendibs. I end up playing my StP on it.. And things are looking grim from me, everything hanging by a thread until, in the spirit of the deck I “steal” a win thanks to my opponent not knowing how to exploit the stack well enough : he could have attacked successfully to kill me with his Dragon Whelp, but didn’t know how to prevent me from temporarily stealing it with my Old Man of the Sea, which removes it from combat (you boost it once, then if the opp. doesn’t activate his O’Man, it won’t be possible in the future, so he does, and you boost you dragon once more in response, which will make the stealing effect fail). Then again I later make a big mistake of my own as I had him tapped out thanks to a Power Sink  so I could have stolen it but didn’t. I’m not punished for my mistake, I finally destroy his tome, so I’m the only one drawing 2 per turn, play a Preacher, then a Rubinia so I’ll be able to steal his Shivan Dragon.. but I don’t get to attack with it as I draw a Braingeyser and win on the spot by asking him to draw 16 cards. The stealing theme almost did it ! Fourth and last game he gets a tome out early and I don’t so I’m logically overrun. When I finally manage to make things more fair by casting a Braingeyser for 5, it’s already too late as he’s pummeling me with his Shivan So a virtual 2-2, which is still good for a first foray on a format.

My first impressions : I had heaps of fun, the games were loooong, and the Serendibs aren’t my cup of my tea (the games drag on for two long, people will play cards like Paralyze, Spirit Link, Icy Manipulator and so on, all of which keep your demanding flyer in play for far too long).

It seemed like things were going so slow, you’d have the time to abuse big artifacts like the Hive, and then that’s when it clicked : Serpent Generator  ! That card !

Serpent Generator
Spits Snakes.. good metal band name ?

Why isn’t it played more than it is ? I know there aren’t necessarily a ton of life gain in the format, but, still, it’s nice to know that you can give them life through Crumble, Swords to Plowshares or let them abuse Ivory Tower without having to worry. Poison is in the house ! (rejoice)

highlander-9394-spits-snakes.png

vs DFB

Game 1, turn 5, I play The Hive, but while the card’s good, it’s not that good and it would prevent me from playing anything if I were to use it so I play. He has a Jalum Tome relatively early, which he uses almost every turn, for seemed like almost for ever. It doesn’t seem to give him all that much as despite that I stabilize at 7 life. In the end I have both The Hive and Serpent Generator, and can and do activate both each turn too ! So I win. Game 2 : never happened, we already had been playing for 50 minutes and it was getting late.

Second impressions : well it clearly was a slow format so I went for the jugular and made things even slower. I loved it, but it takes some time, patience, and, one could almost say, some devotion. Also, Ivory Tower was great against Pelham, but worthless this time.

Did I tell you games are often long in this format ? Just had to check. If you plan to complete more than one game, and maybe even actually a match, secure an hour and a half is my advice.

One of the card I had to completely reevaluate is Prodigal Sorcerer. Yes, I think we’ve finally found the format where it shines. I didn’t play it and it’s probably not the universally great old school Highlander card, but I think in this format token generators are a big deal.

Master of the Hunt.jpg
Yes, I actually consider playing this.

So while Master of the Hunt and its wolves offspring are shielded from him, Tim still neutralizes the snakes and wasps generators. It is also sometime useful to kill mana dorks or the occasional x/1, but the thing is, this format often generates stacked board state where nobody can attack. A Tim there puts you in a winning position, a slow one for sure, but it’s a turtle-paced format anyways.

But there’s only one of Tim, and I imagine Orcish Artillery wouldn’t be appropriate alongside it unless you had a way to make a fast deck to put them in. So since it seemed that Token Generation was key, I thought of mana deprivation, not land destruction mind you, I don’t believe in that in constructed, so in this slow format, and with only a few legal, I just don’t see it happening. No, I’m talking real deal cards like Armageddon and Winter Orb. Without the Moxes, those are very powerful, and are certainly the kind of cards that would stop all that token generation madness (were I to face it, not that it happened, mind you). But that’s just the two cards, so you have to look harder, and another card that makes it harder to abuse mana is Manabarbs. Ankh of Mishra work with the theme, and we obviously want as much non-land mana sources as we can get, so green is in. Red and green are good to put some early pressure, work with little available mana and make those Ankh and ‘barbs count so this is what I brewed :

IMG_20170413_161342_304 res.png
Proxy : hurricane

That’s a total of 7 2/x of casting cost inferior to three.

vs. Henrik Bro Larsen

He contacts me and ask me what are the rules for highlander 93/94 deck construction. There are no rules, man. Still, I tell him what is the “usual” way to do it.

Little I knew, that no longer than 2 hours later he’d be all ready to play his first high94 match. Unfortunately by then I was getting tired and I forgot to press the record button.
First game I didn’t hesitate, I was on the play and turn two I saw an Island, that was my cue to resolve Winter Orb. Winter Orb in the face of a single land, and making you one mana behind ? That’s actually often the right play I think when facing permission since the most important is to resolve it. He never recovers from that. He accumulates mana until he can play a Tetravus while I beat him up with an Argothian Pixies, but I have lots of untapped mana and can Hurricane it successfully. That was the key moment of the game, since that left him tapped out and with apparently only expensive stuff in hand : 1-0. Second game happened what often happens in this format : I didn’t find one of my two main colours land until late in the game, and almost didn’t play anything before it was too late : his deck is indeed mana-hungy, playing all those elementals (of the Earth, Water and Fire kind that time), but he did develop decently and when I tried to make a come back it was too late since my threats are tailored for a mana-deprivation plan (they’re generally small). I think blue-red is a very interesting combination to get a critical mass of big creatures. You have the elementals, that’s 4 of them, Shivan Dragon and Mahamoti Djinn, Serendib Djinn I’m less comfortable playing in that format but it’s a possibility, the 3/3 flyers for 4 (Roc of Kher Ridges + Phantom Monster) aren’t exactly big but they’re availalable and while they don’t have much thoughness, they still make for a relatively Earthquake-resistant deck (which he plays of course). So there’s a lot, and with blue as a main color means you can abuse Mana Drain+Braingeyser+Recall easily, so even if you don’t splash black for the usual Demonic Tutor + Mind Twist, you’re good in the spoiler department (which by the way, since he told me he didn’t play Mind Twist I had removed mine, now it’s back after seeing him do exactly that, minus the Mana Drain). Third game I won, though I don’t remember exactly how. I remember having a turn 1 Ghazban Ogre, then playing a Chaos Orb, then a regrowth on the orb. Fourth game I didn’t find any form of mana oppression, he developed his mana nicely and his fatter creatures took over. Last game I did find an Ankh and some small creatures, but he still developed his board (though at a cost), and finally when I needed to draw some X-damage spell to win or draw the game I drew the next best thing : Ifh-Bifh Efreet. But I was one mana short of getting the draw with it, my opponnent still had 5 life and I had 4, and facing a huge army, including a Tetravus and a copy artifact on Tetravus. Not bad for a first time with a quickly hacked highlander deck, Bro !

Conclusion : that deck is ok, a bit hit and miss, but games typically don’t take too long, which can be nice sometimes in a format where games often devolve into stuffed-board-states grindfests. I think it can be more efficient against slower decks, those give me plenty of times to find my mana oppression to try to take over, but midrangey decks like Henrik’s one do not give me that much legroom.

That’s a format in which you realize that since people can only play one Swords to Plowshares, big creatures become very much playable, where you realize that only two of Lightning Bolt + Chain Lightning means a whole class of non-weeny X/3- cards that were almost unplayable before are real threats in their own right. Cards like Phantom Monster are actually good, dammit ! That’s when you realize too, that you don’t have a Hurricane, and will have to proxy that 2 cents card you barely noticed before you discovered the joy that is Highlander.

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