Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Battlebond Highlander Set Review

Greetings neglected readers,

I'm three sets behind print!: Core Set 2019, Commander 2019 and half of Guilds of Ravnica.
Ain't about to let this series die yet, so here's my Battlebond Highlander Set Review.

Let's start with the hands down best card in the set:
Just one hand down.
Oh boy, this is a scary one. First let's list off the power houses she can seek:
Ancestral Recall
Time Walk
On the next tier of sought after spells we have:
Crop Rotation
Swords to Plowshares
Mana Drain
Fatal Push
Green Sun's Zenith
and many more.
Despite the ridiculous power of the top tier instants and sorceries, having to cast a three-mana 1/1 means the opponent will have time to take countermeasures.
Spellseeker's creature status opens new doors for top-tier instants and sorceries. Whether these doors are too powerful for zero points is uncertain:
The Flash + Protean Hulk combo used to rely on Dimir Infiltrator to find Flash via Worldly Tutor, Sylvan Tutor or Eladamri's Call. Now they can use Spellseeker. That chump blocker is a huge upgrade. So is being able to find one-costs as well as two-costs
Now Birthing Pod decks can tutor for Time Walk and take a few extra turns with Eternal WitnessSnapcaster Mage and Goblin Dark-Dwellers.
Spellseeker searches for Hermit Druid via Green Sun's Zenith.
Riptide Laboratory returns Spellseeker. Why did they have to make her a wizard too? Or a human for that matter, but that's another conversation...

Rector!? I hardly knew her!
"Arena Rector" Sounds dirty to say outloud somehow.
Immediately I think 'turn three or four Ugin, yep that should win the game'. We need to sacrifice her at will since we can't rely on our opponent to kill her. Ideally we're sacrificing immediately so our opponent can't exile her. We'd also like our huge badass planeswalker ASAP, i.e. when we have the four mana for Rector. There are plenty of 'bad' cards that can sacrifice creatures for free; We're hoping Rector's power makes up for them.
Arena Rector is a throwback to the very powerful Academy Rector. Pattern of Rebirth is in the family. If we're playing the sacrifice outlets for one, we may as well play them all, even if we need expensive enchantments, creatures AND planeswalkers.
So apart from Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, here are some other awesome planeswalkers to find:
Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Garruk Apex Predator
Karn Liberated
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Then for Academy Rector it would be Sandwurm Convergence or Cruel Reality (I think Form of the Dragon is too risky). Or if you have a creature, you can go get Pattern of Rebirth, put that onto the creature and sac it to find a huge creature like Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
It's worth noting that similar to Academy Rector, if your opponent exiles Arena Rector from your graveyard before her ability resolves, then you won't be able to search for a planeswalker.
Also worth noting is that she's great with Flash.
Oh what the hell, I may as well make a list:

"Flash Rector"

Carrion Feeder
Viscera Seer
Green Sun's Zenith #
Deathrite Shaman
Eladamri's Call
Bloodthrone Vampire
Cartel Aristocrat
Rofellos, Llanowar Emissary
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Devoted Druid
Vizier of Remedies
Survival of the Fittest #
Fauna Shaman
Lotus Cobra
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Knight of the Reliquary
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Kitchen Finks
Loyal Retainers
Arena Rector
Academy Rector
Pattern of Rebirth
Birthing Pod #
Murderous Redcap
Natural Order #
Titania, Protector of Argoth
Elspeth, Sun's Champion
Karn Liberated
Sandwurm Convergence
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Protean Hulk ##
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Phyrexian Tower
High Market
Starlit Sanctum
Dryad Arbor
Windswept Heath
Misty Rainforest
Verdant Catcombs
Wooded Foothills
Marsh Flats
Polluted Delta
Bloodstained Mire
Flooded Strand
Arid Mesa
Tropical Island
Overgrown Tomb
Wasteland #

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Eidolon of Rhetoric
Faerie Macabre
Kambal, Consul of Allocation
Qasali Pridemage
Reclamation Sage
Voice of Resurgence
Overwhelming Splendor
Cruel Reality
Bitterheart Witch
Scavenging Ooze
Wheel of Sun and Moon
Dryad Militant
Anafenza, the Foremost
Leovold, Emissary of Trest

(I threw that deck together for Highlander FNM at my local store, 'The Tabernacle at Ascot Vale' last Friday and went 4-0! So there's definitely something there.)

The 'Partner' keyword means that when it enters you search your library for the partner card and put it in your hand.
Funny how these will almost always be purchased and played together but will be sorted separately in store inventories.
Will is the star here. If you untap with him and -2 with a card draw spell in hand, you win.
He's competing with the likes of Torrential Gearhulk for a spot in control decks. I think he's better than Wurmcoil Engine or Consecrated Sphinx since he's so hard to kill.
Arguably you could play Will by himself but that extra value of getting Rowan in hand for free is tempting. However, Rowan is a weak card without Will to shrink creatures for her, so if Will gets countered or discarded somehow, then drawing Rowan becomes a liability.

You need a super heavy white mana base to play Brightling. She effectively costs '1WWW' to cast since you want to hold up 'W' to save her.
Brightling is bad at attacking into creatures; She is more of a control card, works well with sweepers and can hold off multiple creatures by herself. In other archetypes I can see her as a sideboard card against control, since control decks play lots of removal and very few blockers.

Very powerful but hard to use. Easiest way is sideboard against aggro, where it acts as a lifegain spell plus draw 7 (!!!). You'll be very vulnerable that turn though, one life and four tapped lands. Your opponent may simply have a burn spell or even staggered damage from a first strike creature. Funny that drawing into Force of Will won't save you due to the 1 life required to cast Force for no mana.
Against non-aggro decks, Stunning Reversal will typically do nothing unless you're already paying life for some reason, perhaps in a ChannelNecropotenceDeath's Shadow or Griselbrand strategy. In those decks you can maindeck Stunning Reversal.
In this case, some cheap life gain could help, e.g. Intervention PactFaith's ShieldHealing GraceLife Goes OnAngel's Grace and Nourishing Shoal.

If you untap with Bramble Sovereign you probably win. There is risk though; Having your four-cost Fatal Pushed is a huge tempo loss.
Note that it triggers from any player's creature.
You want to play Bramble Sovereign ASAP to catch all those copy opportunities and you'll want most of your creatures to cost <4cmc so that you can copy them with Sovereign on curve.

Huge payoff if it lives but her deck-building cost is huge. To make her work you'll need to have about 8 worthy creatures to make copies of; all of which are probably too expensive to ever cast. The space taken up by worthy creatures will also detract from your ability to protect her from removal. She does die to Lightning Bolt et al, so she very fragile.
She's best in Reanimate strategies, particularly post-board when they might side out their small creature removal.

This pair is a stretch for 'playable' but I think they just get there. I've happily played many Mirran Crusaders in my day. Of course Sylvia is missing those important protection abilities, but she is better against burn spells since you end up with Khorvath in hand. Admittedly Korvath is somewhat of a liability to draw, noticeably when you compare it to Lightning Angel. I think the key to making this pair playable, is making Khorvath playable. I can see into the future and tell you that a card called Sarkhan Dragonsoul is about to be printed. We're probably talking dragon tribal here. Dragonspeaker Shaman is another card which comes to mind. A dragon tribal deck doesn't have many reasons to splash white, but highlander mana is so ridiculously good that you can get away with it.
Sylvia with Terratorial Hellkite is 12 flying damage turn four, that's pretty sweet.

I can see this as a sideboard card for Hardened Scales against traditional 'good removal + threats' decks. The dream is Arcbound Worker + Krark-Clan Ironworks or Ashnod's Altar.

Speaking of Hardened Scales, more like Hardened Tooth, amirite? An imaginitive rascal indeed!
If Pir lives for a couple turns you probably win, and if he dies you still have Toothy who ain't tooth bad at all.
Dare I say Zameck Guildmage could find a home with these pals? Or perhaps he's just an imaginary friend of an imaginary friend.
Note that Pir gives you one extra of any counter, not just +1/+1 counters, so planeswalkers should be considered. His effect is also a 'must', and therefore nombos with persist creatures that would probably go into a Hardened Scales deck. Such a deck would also play Doubling Season and Winding Constrictor. That's a lot of value. Just make sure you can kill fast against combo and I think you'll be competitive.

A hot contender for Storm combo (handy deck tech on, here). I'm no expert on the deck but Bonus Round seems amazing in it, and if it's not, it wouldn't take much tweaking.

Like a much weaker Kolaghan's Command (which means it's still ok). If your metagame is full of traditional Magic decks with creatures and removal, then you can maindeck this. Otherwise, I would leave it. It's not powerful enough to sideboard.

I expected to hear more discussion about this card. It finds ANY land. Reap and Sow saw play in UG Tolarian Academy decks, and this is way better. You're probably casting this ASAP to get your deck's centerpiece land: Tolarian Academy, Gaea's Cradle or Strip Mine. if your opponent has an artifact or enchantment to sacrifice, then that's probably game over right there.

What!? These cards are garbage you say? You are absolutely correct. However, I couldn't resist the opportunity to point out the two-card combo of Frenetic Efreet + Zndrsplt. You can hold priority and put 1 million gillion Efreet activations on the stack. Unlike with Frenetic Sliver, if you lose a flip with an Efreet activation, the consequent activations will still involve a coin flip. Therefore you can flip practically infinite coins. Of course you will lose if you draw more than your remaining library, so you must include an instant speed way to remove Zndrsplt from the battlefield; perhaps Slaughter Pact or Snapback. You must also include a way to win the game immediately, since your entire library could be in your hands if your Snapback was the final card. Simian Spirit Guide, Pyretic Ritual, Desperate Ritual + Lightning Storm could work.

I'm so glad Karakas is a point.
Two toughness means she trades with practically everything. Only against combo will she regularly survive combat. Although, against combo you probably just die before the warrior train starts rolling.
Note that Najeela triggers off any warrior attacking, even the tokens she creates.
When Najeela can sit on the bench and let other warriors do the attacking, that's when she really shines, and if you have WUBRG + Sword of Feast and FamineBear Umbra or Nature's Will, then she goes super nova.
Najeela isn't enough to warrant playing mostly warriors. You'll need more warrior payoff cards. Battlebond has a few more. In order of strength:

A warrior deck would certainly be four colours and aggressive. I did a gatherer search for all the warrior payoff cards; the only good ones are Najeela, the Blade-Blossom, Rushblade Commander, Mindblade Render, Chief of the Edge and Bramblewood Paragon. There are other payoff cards but their power level barely matches non-tribal alternatives. Five good payoffs is not enough to warp your deck. Warriors needs a few more Najeela-level printings to be good.

Woooahh. I've been so late on this set review. This card went right under my radar. Didn't know it existed until a couple weeks ago. Unlike Grip of Phyresis, Fumble is totally maindeckable. A two-mana unsummon is quite poor but when you average that out with blowouts against equipment, it's totally good enough.
Considering the power level of equipment you're typically steeling, Fumble seems great.
You can find Fumble with Spellseeker.
What about auras? Not many enchant creatures get played in Highlander. Rancor is the main one which comes to mind, but that will probably end up back in your opponent's hand. The other common enchant creatures are Control Magic et al. Decks which play those typically play few creatures of their own, but if you're lucky you'll score a huge blowout.
I already ranked Sword of Fire and Ice and Sword of Body and Mind as the best of their cycle thanks to pro blue against True-Name Nemesis and Jace, the Mind Sculptor; with Fumble's printing I think they're indisputably the best of the five.

An aura which could see fringe play. Strictly sideboard for creature mirror matches.
Better in decks with demons or hexproof creatures. Very nice on a Geist of Saint Traft, or maybe Hero of Iroas.
One day I'll win with Liliana's Contract.

Rat Colony?
Just a generally good aggro card, especially for Goblins.
Possible lategame shenanigans with Squee, the Immortal and a way to sacrifice for value.
Makes flashback cards and the new jump-start cards from Guilds of Ravnica a little better (I'm really time-stamping my forehead here!). Mmmm turn three double Lingering Souls.

A good one to Naturally Order against combo. Maybe even Green Sun's Zenith if you have an amazing mana draw.
Works well with cards which let you see your opponent's hand, to possibly lock out their only answer. A 5/6 flying, vigilant, trampler is pretty unbeatable.

Good in aggressive decks with lots of one and two cost evasion creatures. Also good in a madness strategy.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 = 21 damage. (Triangular 6?). Play the tower then ritual and cantrip to victory the following turn. This line leaves you weak to artifact hate though. There's a chance you could cast the Tower and your six instants and sorceries in the same turn, but I think that'd be too hard.
Tendrils of Agony requires nine other spells plus itself, but counting artifact spells helps tremendously.
With Bonus Round also in this set and the printing of Baral, Chief of Compliance and Wheel of Fortune recently going to to zero points, seems like a great time to experiment with an instant&sorcery Storm build. An Epic Experiment if you will.
Sentinel Tower doesn't even need to kill all in one turn. You can just play it in a control deck and use it to pick off creatures and planeswalkers each turn until they're out of cards. The only risk is them killing the Tower. Most of your deck will be instants and sorceries and thus you will be low on win conditions.

That's it! Finally I've written an article again. I'll try get round to Core19, Commander 2019 and Guilds of Ravnica soon. Referencing cards from future sets is pretty embarrassing.
Hopefully you got some inspiration for a sweet new deck or innovation of an existing one. I certainly did!