Thursday, 14 December 2017

Highlander Hermit Druid Deck Guide


Lots of Highlander players are presenting their pet decks for all to see, I thought I'd do the same. One of my favourite brews is Hermit Druid combo. I won a Mox Sapphire with it before the format matured but haven't had much success since. I wrote an in-depth article about the deck years ago for a website called but the website got shut down and the article lost.

My current list is below. After it, is an explanation of card selection and how the deck functions:

Hermit Druid*
Dread Return
The Mimeoplasm
Murderous Redcap
Lord of Extinction
Sacred Cat
Cabal Therapy
Memory's Journey
Vampiric Tutor***
Worldly Tutor*
Survival of the Fittest*
Green Sun's Zenith*
Sylvan Tutor
Fauna Shaman
Eladamri's Call
Imperial Recruiter
Recruiter of the Guard
Shred Memory
Muddle the Mixture
Cephalid Illusionist
Nomads en-Kor
Shaman en-Kor
Shallow Grave
Apprentice Necromancer
Postmortem Lunge
Mental Misstep
Qasali Pridemage
Wooded Foothills
Misty Rainforest
Windswept Heath
Verdant Catacombs
Polluted Delta
Marsh Flats
Bloodstained Mire
Scalding Tarn
Arid Mesa
Flooded Strand
Mana Confluence
City of Brass
Gemstone Mine
Volcanic Island
Underground Sea
Overgrown Tomb
Botanical Sanctum
Blooming Marsh
Tropical Island
Breeding Pool

Laboratory Maniac
Oblivion Stone
Chaos Warp
Carpet of Flowers
Wild Growth
Sivvi's Ruse
Orim's Cure
Sivvi's Valor
Stony Silence
Null Rod
Faerie Macabre
Volrath's Stronghold

There he is, Rob Zombie. The combo is, have zero basic lands in your deck, get Hermit Druid on the battlefield, activate him to put your whole deck in your graveyard, then win. It takes a lot of support cards to win with your graveyard. These support cards are low powered when played ordinarily, therefore you can't fight toe-to-toe against fair decks; you need to go all-in on the combo.

The main support card is:
There are many creatures you can return which will win the game immediately. My current favourite is:
Exiling these two:
Murderous Redcap can be substituted for Walking Ballista if you like. I'm not sure which I prefer. Redcap gives more value at four mana and can kill a Deathrite Shaman for cheaper (without exposing itself to Deathrite's exile ability). Redcap can be reanimated when you're grinding and doesn't turn on an opposing Null Rod or Stoney Silence after game one. However, Ballista is better basically everywhere else.
An alternative trio of creatures is Angel of Glory's Rise + Laboratory Maniac + Azami, Lady of Scrolls. I don't play these because the cards are generally worse outside the combo and post-board I want Laboratory Maniac separate to my combo to give me resilience against Extract.

Irrelevant History
Before The Mimeoplasm was printed my Dread Return target was Necrotic Ooze with Devoted Druid, Morselhoarder and Molten-Tail Masticore in the graveyard. That was of course one more card than the current kill. And before Necrotic Ooze was printed my kill was Sutured Ghoul + Dragon Breath + Terravore. Only three cards but was vulnerable to creature removal. Yes I've been playing this deck that long!

But what if combo pieces are in your hand?
Never fear, Phantasmagorian is here. It's as if this card was printed for this deck. You'd be surprised how often I cast this thing.
In the event that you draw Phantasmagorian AND one of your combo pieces, you can Cabal Therapy yourself instead. That is Cabal Therapy's main purpose but it doubles nicely as a bad Thoughtseize.

How do you have enough creatures to flashback Dread Return?

Narcomoeba is free but you'll also need a blue or white mana in addition to the green for activating Hermit Druid to have three creatures to flashback Dread Return. The fourth graveyard creature (Sacred Cat) is handy for a few reasons:
  • In case you naturally draw Narcomoeba.
  • If you don't have a blue mana for Fatesticher.
  • In case you need to Cabal Therapy yourself or your opponent.
  • In the event that you opponent kills Hermit Druid in response to the activation. This can happen when you reanimate it with haste using Shallow Grave or Postmortem Lunge.
How do I reliably draw Hermit Druid?
You may have noticed that the deck plays a large number of tutors. In fact all my points are devoted to tutors for Hermit Druid:
Vampiric Tutor***
Worldly Tutor*
Survival of the Fittest*
Green Sun's Zenith*
Sylvan Tutor
Fauna Shaman
Eladamri's Call
Imperial Recruiter
Recruiter of the Guard
Shred Memory
Muddle the Mixture

The three-cost tutors are quite slow when you consider that you still need to cast Hermit Druid the following turn and wait an additional turn for him to recover from summoning sickness. By that time an opposing combo deck or aggro deck may simply race you. I still play four three-cost tutors. The recruiters are still good against aggro because the chump block buys you time. They can also be reanimated.
Muddle the Mixture counters things occasionally. Shred Memory is the worst of all the tutors. The three-cost tutors are a necessary evil. Previously I've played Grim Tutor and Dimir Infiltrator but they were cut as better cards were printed (Dimir Infiltrator nombos with Shallow Grave).

You may have noticed that my list plays an unusually high number of lands, 26. Honestly I would be happy playing 27. I like the high land-count not only for consistency but also because Worldy Tutor, Sylvan Tutor and Vampiric Tutor deny you a drawstep. Turn one Gamble may also strip you of a land.
Another note on Gamble; most combo decks require more than one card to go off and such don't play gamble because the odds of discarding a combo piece are too high. This deck only needs Hermit Druid, so Gamble is fantastic. Even if you do discard Hermit, there are the soon-to-be-mentioned cards as backup.

What if they kill Hermit Druid before I can activate him?
This is where the deck has a 'nine lives' feel. Reanimate, Shallow Grave, Postmortem Lunge and Apprentice Necromancer all provide backup. Shallow Grave and Postmortem Lunge are the best since they give haste, which enables you to go off even against a second removal effect. Apprentice Necromancer is there as the creature option so that all your creature tutors become secondary Hermit Druids. Reanimate is there because it's cheap. By why not play Unearth or Claim//Fame instead of Reanimate? That will be explained in the next question.

What if Dread Return gets countered?
Since your entire library is in the graveyard, you need to win that turn or else you will lose to your following draw step. Do not fear, most of the time Fatestitcher will be able to tap down one of their blue lands. They will of course float a blue mana in response but that's ok, you just go to the second main phase to let the mana empty from their pool.
In the event that a counterspell is still a threat, you can take a stab at discarding it from their hand with a blind Cabal Therapy. It is a beautiful thing when you choose correctly; one of the many edges you can gain by having experience with the deck and playing mindfully.
If Dread Return still gets countered, there's backup:
You can use this to shuffle Reanimate into your library, so that you can reanimate The Mimeoplasm the following turn. If you have three mana, you can also shuffle-in Postmortem Lunge which lets you reanimate Apprentice Necromancer with haste, which reanimates The Mimeoplasm. 
Dread Return rarely gets countered but I like the security. Post-board Memory's Journey becomes a lot more important as it allows you to shuffle Laboratory Maniac back in as the only card in your deck in response to surprise graveyard hate like Ravenous Trap and Faerie Macabre. Post-board, try to keep up an extra green mana when activating Hermit Druid.
Memory's Journey also doubles as a hoser against graveyard decks.

Irrelevant History
I used to play Krosan Reclamation before Memory's Journey got printed. Memory's Journey was the biggest upgrade to the deck since I began playing it. Holding up one mana instead of two, allowed me to reliably respond to graveyard hate and not scoop to Ancestral Recall targeting me, which hilariously was a real threat at the time.

What if Hermit Druid gets EXILED before I can activate him?
This is why I play Cephalid Illusionist, Nomads en-Kor and Shaman en-Kor. The interaction isn't obvious so I'll explain; the en-Kor ability has been errata'd so that it targets. With an en-Kor and Cephalid Illusionist on the battlefield together, you can target the Cephalid over and over as many times as you choose, milling three cards at a time, effectively your entire library. Note that there doesn't need to be any damaging effects present to use the en-Kor ability.
If you have the choice, you should cast your en-Kor first before the Cephalid. This way, if they have a removal spell, they will kill the en-Kor before the Cephalid resolves, otherwise you'll gain priority and be able to mill your whole graveyard in response. The reason you play the en-Kor first, is because the deck has a second en-Kor to tutor for but there's only one Cephalid. Sometimes it may be more mana efficient to cast Cephalid first, in which case it is best to risk Cephalid first.
There is a third two-cost en-Kor which the deck doesn't play, Warrior en-Kor, but it is WW to cast, which is difficult. Also, playing three en-Kors increases the probability of drawing too many of them. I like playing two. You almost never draw both and having a two-cost one turns on Shred Memory and Muddle the Mixture. Having a two-toughness en-Kor also gives you an out to Darkblast.
If you naturally draw an en-Kor or Cephalid, it's almost always better to go for this combo rather than Hermit Druid, because if you have a reanimate effect after an opposing kill spell, this combo can mill your graveyard immediately rather than having to wait a turn for Hermit Druid's summoning sickness to wear off.

I've covered most of the spells so far. The only ones left are a few of the 'anti-disruption' spells:
  • Daze and Mental Misstep. You'll notice that these are zero-mana to cast. This deck hasn't got time to tutor and cast Hermit Druid AND hold up mana for protection effects. Daze and Mental Misstep are the only feasible free-to-cast counterspells. Misdirection and Force of Will require too many blue cards.
  • Qasali Pridemage. This guy is a catch all. Conveniently he can be transmuted and Green Sun's Zenith'd for. Umezawa's Jitte is the main target but there are many others, such as: Oblivion Ring and the like, Pithing Needle and the like, Control Magic and the like. 
  • Shriekmaw. This is one of the weakest cards in the deck. It is a personal choice and almost exclusively for killing Scavenging Ooze. Previously I tried Stingscourger and Sidisi's Faithful but killing that fucking thing dead is more desirable. Reanimated Iona or Elesh Norn are also things which must die.
The mana base
As previously explained, the land-count is high for consistency. Green is the primary colour as it casts and activates Hermit Druid. Survival of the Fittest is also very green-hungry. With a heavy green Survival of the Fittest curve, you can go turn two Survival, turn three triple activate, turn four unearth Fatestitcher tapping their land, second main Nomads en-Kor + Cephalid Illusionist, which is almost always a win.
Sacred Cat is a new addition to the deck (which is a rare occurrence relative to other decks), so I'm not sure which is the second-most important colour to fetch after green. Blue gives you Fatestitcher. White gives you en-Kor and Sacred Cat. Black gives you reanimate effects, which can involve double and triple black.
Admittedly, Pendlehaven is an untested new inclusion. I realised that most of my creatures are 1/1's:
Hermit Druid*
Cephalid Illusionist
Nomads en-Kor
Murderous Redcap (Persisted. Pendlehaven in response to trigger for value)
Sacred Cat
Imperial Recruiter
Recruiter of the Guard
Apprentice Necromancer
All the tutors find these 1/1's and all the reanimation returns these 1/1's. With all that, Pendlehaven seemed excellent, especially if it protects Hermit Druid from Electrolyze, Collective Brutality or the like.
I don't know if the 'fast lands', i.e. Blooming Marsh and Botanical Sanctum are better than the 'pain lands', Yavimaya Coast and Llanowar Wastes. Testing will tell.

Irrelevant History
Sacred Cat superceded Dregscape Zombie. Dregscape Zombie made lands which tapped for black more appealing. With the addition of Sacred Cat, perhaps Plateau is worth including. Currently Marsh Flats has no way of fetching red mana. I tried Badlands whilst I was playing Dregscape Zomie but it screwed me too many times, whereas Plateau can cast en-Kors, Qasali Pridemage, Eladamri's Call and post-board enables Sivvi's Ruse, Sivvi's Valor and Orim's Cure.

The sideboard
This deck is so tied up by all the combo pieces and support cards it needs to play, that it can't board-out many cards, therefore the sideboard is very narrow.

Laboratory Maniac comes in almost every time. It is particularly good against Extract as it gives you a win condition even if The Mimeoplasm is exiled. It also gives you an out against surprise graveyard hate from their hand, e.g. if The Mimeoplasm gets exiled from your graveyard, you can still Memory's Journey Laboratory Maniac into your deck for a second chance of winning.

Oblivion Stone
Chaos Warp
Carpet of Flowers
Wild Growth
These are the anti-Blood Moon package. Yes, that card has beaten me enough times to justify five sideboard slots to it. It's not like I can play basics to counteract it...If you expect your opponent is playing Blood Moon, bring in these five. Bloodghast substitutes Sacred Cat. Under a Bloodmoon, Wildgrowth and Carpet of Flowers can only provide the green for casting and activating Hermit Druid, you can't produce blue or white for Fatestitcher or Sacred Cat, hence the addition of Bloodghast. Unfortunately Bloodghast requires a land drop the turn you go off but I think it's worth the risk.
Note that I play Wild Growth but not Utopia Sprawl, this is because Blood Moon would make the enchanted land no longer a forest, causing Utopia Sprawl to fall off.

Sivvi's Ruse
Orim's Cure
Sivvi's Valor
These are just against burn decks. Very narrow but zero-mana counterspells are amazing.

Stony Silence
Null Rod
Silver bullets against Storm and Workshop decks

Faerie Macabre
Silver bullet against graveyard strategies. Being a small creature makes it searchable by almost all your tutors.

A silver bullet against potentially faster combo decks.

Volrath's Stronghold
Relatively new addition to the sideboard. Gives you the potential to grind against Jund and Grixis decks, which don't exile Hermit Druid. Volrath's Stronghold is only really effective once you have five mana (the mana required to put Hermit on-top in your upkeep and cast him the same turn).

What is ok to sideboard out?
  • If they're not playing Scavenging Ooze, you can board out Shriekmaw. 
  • The slower tutors are always trimmable: Shred Memory, Muddle the Mixture and the recruiters.
  • Reanimate and Postmortem Lunge are bad against graveyard hate, which you can expect your opponent to bring in. Shallow Grave and Apprentice Necromancer are still good against reactive graveyard hate because when you Dread Return and they try to exile your graveyard in response, you can respond with Shallow Grave or Apprentice Necromancer. Note that when you mill your graveyard with Hermit Druid, you are allowed to order it as you like, i.e. you should always order The Mimeoplasm as the top creature in your graveyard for Shallow Grave.
  • Trimming a land is ok, especially on the draw
I don't cut any of the other cards. When I have, I have regretted it.

What is the best metagame for this deck?
This Hermit Druid deck loses to decks which draw about three or more disruption effects in a game. Basically you're flopping Hermit Druid out there and hoping they don't kill it. If your local metagame includes lots of decks which are low on creature removal, then it's ripe. Hermit Druid combo is more consistent than most combo decks whilst being just as fast and having incidental graveyard hate main, so a combo-heavy meta is good for Hermit Druid.

What can I cut if I want to put my own spin on it?
My build plays a lot of backup cards. It may very well be correct to cut cards such as Cabal Therapy, Memory's Journey, Reanimate and Shriekmaw for generally stronger cards.
I play a lot of lands, Pendlehaven, Blooming Marsh and Botanical Sanctum are the weakest if you want to cut some of them.
The entire sideboard is adjustable except for Laboratory Maniac. I have played Leonin Relic-Warder in the past, just for Cursed Totem, which is otherwise unkillable.

Well that's about all I wanted to cover. I still very much enjoy playing the deck even after all these years. It's a thrill to play because the smallest decisions can be the difference between a win and a loss. There are also hilarious games where you're beating down with crappy guys.
Which lands to fetch and what to name with Cabal Therapy are big challenges. Trying to win when your combo pieces are missing is where it gets most challenging. I may be shooting myself in the foot by publishing this article but I don't mind. The more people know about Highlander, the better.

Happy Hermit Holidays,


Thursday, 26 October 2017

Ixalan Highlander Set Review


Get rowdy! In the realm of Rogue Refiner (but not the plane). Not bad as just a value creature which nets you a card. You can work the Crew a bit harder and get more value though. Put them in a midrange dredge deck, make your graveyard huge and have a high chance of discarding two cards of the same type because dredge gives you more control over what you draw.
Even simply playing a higher count of a certain card type improves your Crew.

Roooooararragghh! The dudes in the art are fucked.
Super Thrun basically. Devours control decks.
Pretty excited to add this to my Scapeshift deck. That deck suffers against counterspells and Carnage Tyrnant rips counterspells to shreds.

You know it, I know it.

Passable hate bear dino. Stops Splinter Twin, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Copy Cat, Alluren. Also stops you dying on the spot to Flash combo, although if this is in play they'll just go for Titania + Sylvan Safekeeper instead. You'll still get a few pings though and possibly be able to burn them out.
The pings help a bit when you're grinding against planeswalkers.
Turns off Grove of the Burnwillows + Punishing Fire.
I'd only play this if your local metagame has a couple combo decks to hate on.

Needs to go in a super aggro deck because it's really bad at blocking. A weakness of super aggro decks is their weakness to sweepers, so the indestructible is very appealing.
Works well with Death's Shadow.

The best card for Highlander from the set in my opinion. Deals with Gaea's Cradle, Tolarian Academy, Mishra's Workshop, Maze of Ith, Dark Depths.
Some other bonuses: Two landfall triggers. Combos with anti-search effects like Aven Mindcensor.
Obviously you'll need to play a few basics to ensure you can find one.

On the low end of the power spectrum but it's a flexible one-drop and that counts for a lot. Grinds ok. The graveyard hate is handy against most decks, e.g. messing with delve, Snapcaster Mage, etc; can even win the game in some matchups.
'Two mana, tap, get a counter' is below rate. Drawing a land however, is good. Kind of a mini Tireless Tracker.

If there's a Merfolk deck, it's probably UGx after Ixalan. Kumena's Speaker is a good beater for non-Naya aggro decks (since Naya has access to enough good one-drops to push this out).

Generally inefficient. You're spending two mana to turn off a card your opponent hasn't invested mana into yet.
This card isn't great but some decks struggle against certain card types and are still happy to have an inefficient answer, e.g. mono blue control against planeswalkers or mono black against artifacts.
The situation where this shines most is against decks which heavily rely on a single card, e.g. Time Vault.
Seeing their hand is a strong effect, even if you don't see anything worth naming.

Roooarrr! Dinosaurrr! Better than Thragtusk, albeit two colours. Gonna be a powerhouse in Standard. Green Sun's Zenithable. Worse than Titania but still quite strong. Gives you good value in almost every situation where you can cast a five drop.


Two mana is a large tempo loss for not disrupting your opponent or adding to the board. You'll need to be playing supplementary cards which regain that tempo. You also want to aim for the long game to get the most out of Azcanta. You'll take a turn off here and there to impulse, then spend the next two or three turns regaining that tempo but eventually you'll overcome your opponent. Since you're aiming for the late game you'll need answers for all kinds of threats (creatures, lands, planeswalkers and artifacts), very tricky to do.
Obviously this performs better in graveyard conscious control decks. I'm thinking Emrakul, the Promised End since this helps in play and if milled is one of few appropriate enchantments.
Be aware that main deck yard hate is a thing, so don't expect this to always flip.

Only good if you're cheat casting. Mizzix's Mastery perhaps. The card I'm keen to try this with is Dream Halls. I really need to bust out that deck again. Basically you cast Dream Halls and draw your deck.

Shout outs Nathan Brewer. One more lord for the people of the sea.
hmmm that ain't many. Merfolk probably still aren't playable but eventually there'll be enough.

Playable aggro beater. Much easier to cast than other 3-power haste creatures, e.g. Boggart Ram-Gang, which I've been happy playing.
Only two toughness so she will trade down often.
Bit of colour fixing, which is handy. You'll probably be playing one-mana instants like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push, so being able to tap out turn three and use the treasure to remove their blocker, is efficient.
She might edge into an aggro deck on the back of artifact synergies.

Players have tried Quirion Dryad. It's been close. Acts something like a Tarmogoyf in dedicated spell decks. Unfortunately, decks designed to abuse cards like this, receive diminishing returns from pay-off creatures.

Very win-more but still good enough. Provides some protection against sweepers, which is nice for aggro decks. However, you'd rather leave a creature in play post-sweeper than get one in hand.

I haven't got any sweet combos for you unfortunately but one day this'll be part of one. Best I can think of at the moment is Wirewood Symbiote. Maybe it could set up a win with Goblin Recruiter or Dwarven Recruiter?

Big dumb dinosaur gets there! Not really much worse than Reality Smasher. Thundermaw Hellkite is better but why not play both?! Only a single red, so easy to cast off Mana Vault, Mana Crypt and Ancient Tomb. I think Graham King's big red deck will play this.

This card excites me. Is there a way to ping it a bunch of times early? Seal of Fire is ok. Razorfin Hunter?
Decent sideboard card in ramp decks against aggro.

Might get a spot in the hyper aggro RB deck which has done pretty well in the hands of Jeremy Neeman and Dillon Kikkawa (good luck in Alberquerque dude!). One power is pretty bad at attacking into a Trinket Mage though.
Goes in most three-colour tribal decks but there aren't many of those.

This little fella is a stretch, even for the fringe category. It's just such a unique effect that I couldn't shake it from the list. I know the card Akki Rockspeaker exists, so goblins that ETB generate mana, are on the radar. Maybe there'll be some kind of Food Chain/Lightning Crafter/Birthing Pod Goblin shenanigans deck, who knows?


Hard to evaluate. Defends himself poorly, hence the sideboard allocation. Good to bring in against decks with very few creatures. You also want to be playing small creatures of your own; ideally going one-drop, two-drop, Jace, for max lootage. That's a tall order for a heavy blue deck.
Infinite with Doubling Season.

Anyone familiar with the Static Field ability of the Sorceress in Diablo II?
This card is fringe sideboard. Only good against decks which aren't trying to aggro you out. I'm imagining versing a control deck, they counter and remove your first four threats and then Dire Fleet Ravager comes down and they lose seven life. This is a pretty unique card. I'd love to see an opponent gain 'infinite life', where they choose something like "One billion life". If you have Dire Fleet Ravager and a recurring blink effect "One billion" is not enough.
This card's name is really bad. Not only is it long and generic, it also uses 'Ravager', confusing it with the iconic Arcbound Ravager.

Too slow to maindeck. Excellent in proactive decks post-board against slow decks. When I say 'proactive' I mean you can play most of your cards onto an open board, i.e. not counterspells or lots of removal.
Blue Moon has a lot of trouble against enchantments. Their answer is to either race or bounce plus counter. 
The flip-side is pretty unbeatable for any noncombo deck.

Awesome ability but only one-power and therefore not a good enough attacker to main deck. Pretty good against Birthing Pod decks and some combo decks.

In the realm of Threads of Disloyalty. More synergistic in blue decks with all the instant/sorcery synergies, e.g. Snapcaster Mage and Delver of Secrets.

Fringe sideboard yard hate. Some decks really want the cantrip effect that comes with some of the yard hate artifacts. Others would rather curve out proactively and have yard hate with a zero mana activation cost. In that category, Sentinel Totem is third to Grafdigger's Cage and Tormod's Crypt. If the deck is white, then it's worse than Rest in Peace and Wheel of Sun and Moon. If the deck is black then it's worse than Leyline of the Void and Nihil Spellbomb. If the deck is green then they already have Scavenging Ooze. So I can really only see this in the sideboard of artifact decks or mono red proactive decks, even then it'd need to be a heavy graveyard metagames to play Tormod's Crypt, Grafdigger's Cage AND this.

Just another big dirty six-drop planeswalker. Take your pick of them really. Most of the time they get played cause people just love them, but in some control decks and ramp decks I like them. Vraska is almost impossible to kill, so if you can disrupt combo decks enough and survive to six mana, then game on.

For my Commander 2017 set review, I listed Kindred Discovery as playable in Elves. This is practically the same card for that tiny tiny narrow corner of playability that I've theoretically constructed. This works well in my Contruct tribal deck that I featured in that article.
Kobold tribal? Maybe one day.

My favourite card from the set, just for the art, definitely not the power level. Imagining the chirp noise this thing would vocalise as it runs off with a delicious egg, cracks me up.
I have this listed as fringe playable for mono red sligh. One-toughness for Skullclamp and does a respectable amount of damage if you burn away any blockers. Once you add another colour though, the amount of better two-drops pushes this little guy out.

I like this in the infect deck or the double strike deck. You may not have seen them before but they're possible and can definitely steal wins. No need to play removal in those decks if you can just fly over blockers and outrace like Roadrunner verses me.
If wizards print more cheap hexproof creatures (unlikely), this could go in boggles.

That's it for this set review! I've been slow with this one because I've started back at full-time work, which has been bitter sweet sweet, that is, much more sweet than bitter. So many sweet brews I'd like to try, but no time.



Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Commander 2017 Highlander Set Review

It's that time again!

One wizard's trash is another wizard's treasure. The Commander players buy the precons and we Highlander players swoop in and pick out all the delicious playables. Right?...Who am I kidding, we buy the precons too.

Ok, let's see what we have this time round:

Dissident, adjective: In a manner that disagrees; dissenting; discordant; different.
I had to look this up but really I should've known, given all the dissenters and dissenting in the late Amonkhet.
Like so many cards on my set reviews, Kess is powerful because the cards she can recast are powerful. Time Walk is especially strong since it gives you another rebuy from the graveyard.
Kess would probably still be playable if she was a 2/4 without flying. A 3/4 flying body really pushes her to the level of 'build around'.

From the same precon as Kess. That one is shaping up to be the one to buy.
My first thought when I saw Mairsil was, 'Time Vault in a cage, that's infinite'. 'Griselbrand in a cage' was my second idea. That one's more likely to go off since you won't need to wait for summoning sickness to wear off.
Regardless of what you intend to cage, there's a chance your opponent will be able to remove Mairsil in response to his ETB trigger. I can't imagine any opponent would wait to see what's in the cage first. At least exiling the card from your hand is a 'may'.
Mairsil is designed to work as a commander, so even if he leaves play and returns, he will still have access to all his cages. Also, you can only use each cage once per turn, so no going infinite with Morselhoarder and Devoted Druid, for example.

Much like Taigam's duality between the Jeskai and Sultai, this card could either be playable or unplayable. I'm finding it hard to tell. I think I just spent five minutes thinking about it.
I'm going to say that he's an ok sideboard card for combo decks, particularly against counterspells. Imagine you're playing combo and game two your opponent boards out their creature removal. Not only do you have a decent 3/4 body to block and attack with, all your cantrips and dig spells rebound. Then when you eventually find your key instant/sorcery, it's uncounterable. Hmmm, this could all be wrong though, since Taigam is still just a four-cost spell against two-cost counterspells.

This is the card I'm most excited about from Commander 2017. Not because it's the most powerful (I think that mantle goes to Kess) but because it might go in one my favourite decks, Death & Taxes. I'm also excited about all the "but who's the secret player?" jokes that I'll get to make.
Stalking Leonin is excellent against big green creatures, which are the bane of Death & Taxes. Stalker forces your opponent to have removal or not be able to attack. A 3/3 is an OK blocker too, so your opponent can't low ball you with attacks from smaller creatures.
To get the most value from Stalking Leonin, you'll want plenty of evasion creatures. Otherwise you'll probably just stall the board whilst your opponent waits to draw removal. You will also want to play cards to protect it, like Mother of Runes and Mental Misstep. On occasion your opponent will have enough board presence that they won't mind attacking into Stalker. In this situation, cards which reset Stalker like Restoration Angel, can be a blowout.
Strategy aside, did this creature really need to be an archer? I mean it's a frickin lioness stalking in long grass. Cummon! It's like an aven with a jet pack.

Wizards spent so many years training us that cats have flash. This one happens to have it but recently many have not. I've had multiple opponents try to flash in Prowling Serpopard against me.
I regress, this is not a Cat Snake but a Cat Cleric! And a very political one at that. If knew more about political philosophy I'd know who's face to photoshop onto Alms Collector.
This card is also a great option for Death & Taxes. Some combo decks rely on drawing lots of extra cards and this will probably cause them to fizzle. You may also catch the occasional Brainstorm effect or Sylvan Library. Pretty funny with Consecrated Sphinx.
Restoration Angel (she comes up a lot) has already burned into people's minds that four untapped mana equals flash 3/4, so don't expect to get any flash combat blowouts, unless they're attacking with Gnat Alley Creeper.
Flash still makes this decent against counterspells despite being four-cost.

Ghostway on crack. The dream is five mana, cast Balance holding priority cast Teferi's Protection.
This card has a bit of utility: counters sweepers, counters Tendrils of Agony, you can block then cast this to fog. None of those are good for three mana but they're handy if you were already playing Teferi's Protection for other more powerful interactions.
It's funny that no one knows how phasing works and therefore don't like it but once a phasing card becomes good, everyone is forced to learn how it works and therefore isn't bothered by it anymore. The reason phasing was taken out of print is because it's too difficult to keep track of what's phased in or out, but if the phasing isn't recurring then it's not too bad.

Boom! Take six! Wow this hits hard. It gets to attack the first turn, then every second turn after that. However, if you can untap it after the trigger resolves and before declare attackers, then you can attack every turn. Also, if you blink it after combat, it'll forget it attacked and be good to go the following turn.
Even if you don't do tricks to attack each turn, just connecting once is a pretty good rate. Burn decks are gonna play this card just for the first hit.

TL;DR, bad Polymorph.
This isn't really playable but I'm giving it an honorable mention. Play a bunch of cheap token generating effects, e.g. Bitterblossom. Beginning of your upkeep your faerie token becomes Emrakul and attacks!

Powerful but fragile. Probably just a bad Mizzix's Mastery. I don't expect this to see play but wouldn't fault anyone for trying. You can bottle a bunch of cheaper instants and sorceries over a few turns or you can go for one big Enter the Infinite. Either way there'll still be a turn where gobbo can be killed before doing his tricks.

Control Magic sees a lot of play in sideboards but it only hits creatures and is also vulnerable to enchantment removal. Fractured Identity might be a big enough upgrade to see play, despite costing five. It's probably still just a sideboard card though.
Making a token instead of simply taking control gets around the risk of your opponent bouncing their card back to their hand, which is nice.
This card probably completes Stephen Campbell's dream of a chain of six card interactions to break the rules of magic: something, Arlinn KordEnchanted Evening + Opalescence + Mirrorweave, something, something.

Olivia needs a commander hug'n'kiss.
This is no Fractured Identity but I have built a couple aggro decks that coincidentally played a lot of vampires. There aren't any vampire tribal cards worth building around so I don't advocate playing vampires for the sake of vampires but like I said, some black aggro decks could sideboard this.

Blue green elf combo is a deck and this may have a home in it. I'm not at expert on the deck so I don't really know. The double blue may be too much.
Goes infinite with The Locust God.

I was close to sideboarding Curse of Shallow Graves against control decks, e.g. Blue moon; because they struggle against enchantments. I decided against it because there's a chance they could keep me from attacking at all. I can still imagine this being good though. It's an upgrade on Curse of Shallow Graves because it produces untapped zombies.
Open the Armory is OK in Skullclamp decks and can tutor for Curse of Disturbance.

The guy in the art is hilarious. Has the same hair as Yunus from The Tabernacle at Ascot Vale, which is a store in Melbourne that occasionally runs Highlander tournaments. Gonna have fun playing these curses against him.
Also, he's paying off!
Card is tricky to break. Not sure how to go about it but one day it'll happen. Perhaps simply in a five-colour aggro deck or maybe with Shape Anew. I'm struggling here.

Construct tribal anyone? It's worth noting that you don't need to be very tribal for Heirloom Blade to be ok. In fact, it can act as a tutor if you are careful with creature types during deck construction and can sacrifice the equipped creature. 

Metallic Mimic
Hangarback Walker
Walking Ballista
Scrapheap Scrounger
Steel Overseer
Arcbound Ravager
Chalice of the Void
Phyrexian Revoker
Ratchet Bomb
Porcelain Legionnaire
Herald's Horn
Heirloom Blade
Adaptive Automaton
Scrap Trawler
Chief of the Foundry
Foundry Inspector
Treasure Keeper
Lodestone Golem
Cogwork Tracker
Synod Centurion
Ugin's Construct
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
Kuldotha Forgemaster
Scuttling Doom Engine
Wurmcoil Engine
Myr Battlesphere
Mental Misstep
Mox Jet**
Mox Sapphire**
Mox Opal
Mox Diamond
Expedition Map
Inkmoth Nexus
Blinkmoth Nexus
Gargoyle Castle
Foundry of the Consuls
Mishra's Factory
Stalking Stones
Buried Ruin
Ghost Quarter
Tower of the Magistrate
Rishadan Port
Dust Bowl
Cavern of Souls
City of Traitors
Ancient Tomb
Mishra's Workshop*
Tolarian Academy**
Seat of the Synod
Tree of Tales
Ancient Den
Vault of Whispers
The Great Furnace
Darksteel Citadel

Crucible of Worlds
Powder Keg
Uba Mask
Grafdigger's Cage
Mindbreak Trap
Faerie Macabre
Tormod's Crypt
Coercive Portal
Pithing Needle
Peace Strider
Silent Arbiter
Perilous Myr

I've played artifact stompy deck for a long time and it produces lots of great games. There are a lot of directions you can take it. Constructs is just one. The deck is very powerful when you get your fast mana. If you don't draw your fast mana however, you'll need to fight for your win.

Ok! that does it for this set review. Ixalan feels so close due to the early spoilers. Next big Highlander tournament is the 2pm mox-a-licious side event on the Friday of nationals. I'm already preregistered for it. If you're going up for nationals you should play the Highlander too! Will be a great event.

Hopefully see you on the glorious field of battle!