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!


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Hour of Devastation Highlander Set Review


This is my Australian Highlander set review for Hour of Devastation. I'll just get straight into it.

I keep hearing people asking store clerks for Braids and I'm like, "What? Isn't she banned as a commander? What do you want with Braids, Cabal Minion?".
I expect to see this played more in control decks rather than aggro decks; Aggro decks want to burn face and exile creatures with their removal. Control decks value the ability to kill diverse threats like Birthing Pod, Skullclamp and Smuggler's Copter. Being instant rather than sorcery is also key.

I've played Fencing Ace in Death & Taxes before. It was 'passable', so Adorned Pouncer should reach the rank of 'fine'.
With a subtheme of creature pump in Death & Taxes, you can really get some value from double strike creatures like Adorned Pouncer and Mirran Crusader. Double triggers on Umezawa's Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice are crazy albeit 'win more'. Jumping a double striker with Elspeth, Knight-Errant is enough to win a game. Even the +1/+1 from exalted creatures is nice.

I'm not impressed by this card but the idea of putting Time Walk or Ancestral Recall back on top of your library seems playable to me. Here's the kind of deck I imagine it in: (to save time I haven't linked cards that I think everyone knows)

Bloodwater Entity
Thing in the Ice
Young Pyromancer
Goblin Guide
Monastery Swiftspear
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy
Gitaxian Probe
Ancestral Recall****
Time Walk***
Lightning Bolt
Chain Lightning
Price of Progress
Serum Visions
Burning Wish
Mental Misstep
Volcanic Island
Steam Vents
Scalding Tarn
Arid Mesa
Wooded Foothills
Bloodstained Mire
Flooded Strand
Misty Rainforest
Polluted Delta
Shivan Reef
Barbarian Ring

Magus of the Moon
Surgical Extraction
Null Rod
Ancestral Visions

As featured in the above decklist. I've seen a couple players try all-in Kiln Fiend decks with Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage, to good effect. Crash Through would perform best in those decks.

Perfect for Recurring Nightmare decks. Also note that her ability checks on resolution, so if you pump her in response with Become Immense, that's draw eight discard two! Might of Old Krosa, Groundswell, Might of Alara and Gaea's Might are all awesome too. Champion of Wits works so well with pump that she could go in infect decks.

Surely has some application in creature based graveyard combos. I might add it to my Hermit Druid combo deck. Seems perfect for that. Other decks might want it as a more versatile Dragon Breath.

A decent sideboard card for the dredge deck against combo. The dredge deck has never done well but there are a couple players in Canberra who keep tweaking it and who knows, eventually it may get a big tournament finish. Shout outs to Jacob Dunn and Lachlan Saunders.

May find a home in the Mishra's Workshop prison deck with Smokestack and Dust Bowl. Or maybe a white-based lands prison deck. Something like this rough list I whipped up:

Expedition Map
Life from the Loam
Crucible of Worlds
Sensei's Divining Top
Sylvan Scrying
Crop Rotation*
Knight of the Reliquary
Courser of Kruphix
Tireless Tracker
Scroll Rack
Mox Diamond
Green Sun's Zenith*
Darksteel Citadel
Dark Depths
Strip Mine**
Temple Garden
Dust Bowl
City of Traitors
Ghost Quarter
Wooded Foothills
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catacombs
Windswept Heath
Arid Mesa
Flooded Strand
Marsh Flats

Maze of Ith
Qasali Pridemage
Ghostly Prison

Crucible of Worlds on legs. Can be Green Sun's Zenith'd.

Great aggro creature. Committee member Andrew Vance has already top4'd with it in Zoo. Not much strategy involved with Earthshaker apart from 'lay the beats'. The Eternalize token is black, which can help out against red hate.

I quickly realised that I want to add these to sooo many of my decks. Untapped, colour-producing, value lands. These are a relatively big addition to Highlander. All the blue black delve decks will want Ipnu Rivulet. All the aggro burn decks will want Ramunap Ruins. I've added Shefet Dunes to Death & Taxes. Ifnir Deadlands cleanly kills Kitchen Finks and Glen Elendra Archmage, which is nice.
These lands also cast Eldrazi but I don't expect players to push their mana base just for Thought-Knot Seer, Matter Reshaper and Reality Smasher. Eventually wizards will revisit the colourless mechanic and then we'll see.

Potentially very powerful. Casting Wheel of Fortune in red aggro and drawing into this is awesome.
Activate Survival of the Fittest, find Vengevine, discard Vengevine finding Basking Rootwalla, discard Rootwalla and cast it finding Hollow One bringing back Vengevine. That's pretty sick.
Also good in red artifact reanimator: Goblin Welder, Daretti, Scrap Savant, Faithless Looting, Tormenting Voice, Cathartic Reunion. I'll leave the rest to you!

There were heaps of these in Amonkhet too. If anyone wants to build Living End in Highlander, now's the time! They also changed the ruling regarding the CMC of split cards: Before the changes, if you cascaded into Bound//Determined, you would cast the Determined; That is no longer the case, now split cards have a CMC of the sum of both halves in all zones except on the stack. This increases the options of cascade decks.

We're already spoiled for excellent colourless value lands. This land may fit in certain builds. Obviously great with fetchlands. Although what kind of deck wants fetchlands and can afford colourless lands? All the three and four colour good stuff decks don't even play Mishra's Factory, so it's an interesting question.
It's worth noting that opposing Deathrite Shamans and Scavenging Oozes could mess with your Hostile Desert.

A sideboard card in decks which don't play many creatures or planeswalkers themselves. This card is particularly good against the relatively popular green elf ramp decks which have seen success lately (Tim Hughes' 3rd-4th list is the most recent big tournament list). Creature based ramp decks are typically weak to sweepers. The successful Highlander ones use planeswalkers to hedge against creature sweepers. Hour of Devastation happens to crush that plan, so it's positioned nicely. The green decks do have Whisperwood Elemental and a couple ways to tutor for it though, so they're not cold to Hour of Devastation.

Double tutor for non-basic lands. Must be good. The aforementioned Gaea's Cradle ramp decks may play it. Even finding two creature lands is ok when they already have their Gaea's Cradle.
This finds both Dark Depths and Thespian's Stage. If you also play red for Hanweir Battlements and Flamekin Village, there's a good chance Marit Lage is hitting them next turn for twenty, boom!
Tolarian Academy decks have gone mono-blue as of late. Hard to tell if Hour of Promise will sway them back to blue green. The possibility of finding a combination of Tolarian Academy, Deserted Temple, Minamo, School at Water's Edge and Petrified Field is pretty enticing.

I've been playing Gainsay in the sideboard of a couple of my decks. Jace's Defeat is strictly better. Also you get reminded of how badass Nicol Bolas is.

Sideboard cards against burn. Able to be flashed back by Snapcaster Mage and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy.

Combos with Dark Depths! Powers Tolarian Academy and copies it for even more mana. Copies Gaea's Cradle. Combos with Time Vault. Decent against reanimator decks.
So many powerful effects.

Stifle Bird! Anything that hurts fetchlands I like. Even when you cast Vendilion Clique and leave your opponent with their current hand, the 3/1 flash flying body is still quite nice. That's a precedent for Nimble Obstructionist.
Blue has a decent number of beaters these days. Blue instant speed tempo decks seem excellent.

Use Flash and Academy Rector to cheat in a one-sided Humility! Perhaps Bitterheart Witch plus sacrifice effects could become a thing? Unlikely, but it's sweet. Other strong curses include Curse of Misfortunes, Curse of Exhaustion, Curse of Death's Hold and Cruel Reality.

Might be good with Gifts Ungiven or Realms Uncharted as a way to tutor for lands. Titania, Protector of Argoth is wayyyy better but in Highlander that's still good enough.
In general, due to the one-of build restriction of Highlander and the strength of powered cards, any card which gets back things from the graveyard is strong.

...yeahhh, just. She's fine. I wouldn't fault anyone for playing Samut in a stompy deck. Plenty of four-power three-drops that Samut can whip. The -2: Forked Bolt is nifty against elves and planeswalkers.

Symmetrical, so not great if you're relying on your own graveyard. Yes, it exiles itself.
I really like this in counterspell decks which can afford to hold up mana all the time. If your opponent has graveyard shenanigans, they can see the Scavenging Grounds sitting amongst your lands, they're not going to walk into it. But by staying instant speed you never give them an opportunity to do their thing.
It's worth noting that Flash Hulk combo is alive and really scary. It gets worse, Scavenging Grounds isn't even good against it. They just go get Titania, Protector of Argoth and Sylvan Safekeeper. I recommend everyone switch their Tormod's Crypts and the like for Rest in Peaces and Leyline of the Voids.

I know there's something you can pull with this. Phyrexian Unlife is the one everyone knows. There's probably others. Not a bad combo to tutor up with Enduring Ideal. Haven't seen that deck before. Maybe could fit into Enchantress.

Infinite with Intruder Alarm, so are a lot of things, but this is the only two-mana one.

Possible applications in Oath of Druids to prevent you from milling yourself. There have always been cards which do this, but none with a useful removal spell front side.

Honourable Mentions

If mill ever becomes viable in Highlander, this card will be in it for sure. I believe mill just became playable in Modern with the printing of this card.
If you find yourself playing against this, you can cast instants and crack fetchlands during the endstep to avoid the trigger timing.

Another expensive win condition. I suspect he'll get played even though he's probably a little bit worse than other win cons. Players just love Bolas.
His first ability is bad against Sensei's Divining Top, which is pretty funny.
When you plan to cast seven drops, you better have a plan against counterspells. Someone could just Mana Leak you and it's a complete blowout.

Once upon a time land destruction was a viable strategy. If more cards like Liliana, the Last Hope get printed and force mana elves out of the format, then land destruction could make a comeback. Very unlikely this will happen though.

Ok, that's does it for the set review. In summary I think the coloured deserts will see a decent amount of play, as will Abrade and Scavenging Grounds.
I'm glad we'll be taking a break from the Gatewatch. Next up, Commander 2017 and then Hearthstone Ixalan.



P.S. If anyone knows of some code which automatically adds pop-up links to any card names it recognises in an article, that would be awesome.