Friday, October 7, 2016

Big Highlander Update

It’s been a long time since I’ve really discussed my Big Highlander on here. For those of you who don’t know, before I got into EDH ( first started dabbling in EDH back during the original Ravnica block, though I didn’t really become a hard-core EDH fan until around  the end of Time Sprial block/beginning of Lorwyn block), I maintained and played what I and my friends eventually just came to call “Big Highlander”. I don’t really know anything about the origins of this casual format, and the actual rules vary widely from place to place. For my purposes, the only rule we were 100% certain of was that you could only have 1 copy of any card except basic lands, and you had to play a “Big” deck. What big meant was never precisely defined, though over several years I and my friends sorta narrowed it down to roughly “somewhere in the range of 250 cards”. Oh and eventually we decided that you had to play all 5 colors, though for the first couple of years, we often tended toward 3 colors, MAYBE splashing lightly for a 4th. I think we also originally played it as a 20-life format, until we played EDH for a few years and decided to play big highlander at 40 life as well.

We also had virtually no banlist for a long time, though eventually our group decided to hard ban Sundering Titan and just gentleman’s ruled Capsize. I know, I know, Capsize? Really? But seriously, I cannot tell you how many games actually came down to one play sticking a Mirari’s Wake with Capsize in hand. It’s not that that was the most unbeatable thing, or that it happened extremely often – but when it did happen it was just incredibly unfun and tended to just end games abruptly and without anything cool happening. So I say we gentleman’s ruled it because we didn’t outright ban it like the Titan, rather we just all sort of agreed it wasn’t fun 99% of the time and avoided playing it maindeck. Oh yeah, we allowed wishboards too. You were allowed to compile a wishboard of 15 cards PER WISH, but each wishboard was separate – meaning, you could put a multicolor creature like, say, Thraximundar in either your Glittering Wish board or your Living Wish board, but whichever one of those wishboards you put it in, only that wish could wish for it (we usually used different colored sleeves for each Wish, so like Green for Living, Red for burning, Gold for Glittering, etc.).

Anyway, we would allow Capsize in your wishboard, but if you kept wishing for it  ruining games with it, you’d get some serious frowny faces. So, basically it was 5-color singleton but with almost no real rules beyond “play 5 colors, singleton, large deck size”. We also had the whole “Play whatever you want, just don’t be a dick” spirit of EDH.

Point is, when EDH really blew up big, this little niche format that was already relatively obscure in my area basically died off completely. But me and one of my close friends kept maintaining and updating our Big Highlander decks, though we play them very infrequently. One of the reasons we still cling to this dead format is that we like to have a place for all our pimpest foils.  I don’t really like to pimp my EDH decks. For one thing, I currently have 24  of them with plans to eventually have 30 (Just need to add mono-White and then the 4-color decks that will come out in November). Pimping out 24 EDH decks is already just the most absurdly unreasonable goal I could possibly have – but complicating matters further is that I’m not the type of person who can just build a deck and play it forever. I’m a builder first and foremost, so even if, say, Rafiq is my favorite EDH deck of all time, I’m still going to want to play other Bant commanders from time to time or explore other archetypes.

I’m constantly tearing apart decks, even ones I love to play and consider successful. That’s a big reason why I have this blog, actually – I can record my decks for posterity and so that I can feel safe dismantling a beloved deck to try out some new idea. I know I can always come back here and rebuild that old deck I loved,  once I get tired of whatever new idea I came up with. So even if I was going to be sure I’d keep this deck or that one sleeved up forever and ever, it’d be impossible for me to foil out that many decks (just thinking of getting 30 foil Sol Rings alone makes me want to die); but add in the fact that my stable is pretty constantly in flux with new decks being brewed all the time… yeah, no can do.

But, before getting into EDH, pimping out our big highlander decks was already a thing we were doing, so we just continued that trend. For EDH I just try to pimp my commanders. I’ll go for foil or promo version of any commander I play, if they are affordable ($30 for a foil Sen Triplets is fine, $180 for a foil Leovold is out of the question, $50 for a Queen Marchesa is something I’d be willing to do, but am not currently able). But most of my pimping efforts have been focused on my Big Highlander.

Another reason we like to play big highlander – playing with cards like Recurring Nightmare, Primeval Titan and Griselbrand. Sure we still have Sundering Titan house-banned but we happily allow just about any other banned-in-EDH card. That’s not to say we dislike or disagree with the RC’s decisions – I agree 100% with them banning Griselbrand, for instance, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy getting to actually use that foil Griselbrand I bought, so Big Highlander is our outlet to up the stakes and do stupid things that even the battle-crusiest of EDH games doesn’t allow for. And, speaking soley for myself here, there are one or two cards that I do think the RC should unban (Gifts Ungivin, Primeval Titan). And we still largely play with the spirit of “don’t be a dick, don’t make games unfun”, so even though we haven’t banned cards like, say, Upheaval, we tend to just avoid using them because they’re not even all that fun to play WITH, let alone against. In short, playing this deck is probably a bit like playing someone’s Vintage cube, sans the Power 9 stuff. And I don’t mean drafting a cube, but rather just picking up like half the cube, adding some lands and sleeving it up!

The nice thing about this is, the power level  of my big highlander deck is so high, it’s actually pretty rare that a new set comes out and they print something that I just absolutely have to have. Most sets have one or two cards I’d like to run, but there just isn’t anything in the current list weaker than whatever new thing just came out. Most sets I can ignore completely, and the reset usually only add one or two new cards. From Eldritch Moon, the only card I’d really consider is Eldritch Evolution and if I just happened to open a foil of that, I’d likely have found a slot for it, but even that isn’t so amazing that I just had to have a foil copy for the big highlander. Shadows was a bit better in that Seasons Past and Anguished Unmaking were compelling enough that I went out of my way to acquire foils of them, though I’m not sure in the long run Season’s Past will quite live up to expectations – I think ultimately it will wind up as a Burning Wish target.

At one point, I might have cut a technically-better non-foil for a slightly weaker foil, but at this point that is not an option. The few non-foil cards left are of the Academy Rector/Recurring Nightmare/Treachery caliber. In other words, cards that are so good I just wouldn’t cut them for any reason. On the flip side, there are a few cards (very few – like 3 or 4 out of 250) that I am running just because I happened to have a foil lying around, but even those are cards I’m hesitant to cut for anything a straight-up better card of similar function and cost. Like, Silverblade Paladin is probably one of the worst cards currently in my list, though even it has performed admirably; nonetheless I’d happily replace it if the right card came along, but I’m not about to cut a white three-drop for something that costs 6+ and requires three colors of mana to cast. No, the only way I’d cut it is if I had a better White creature in the 2 to 4 mana range with an even more desirable ability. Recruiter of the Guard might do, if only the foil version weren’t so pricey. But I’m not in a big hurry to replace him as even though he is probably the worst card in the deck, he’s still not that far below the curve, power-wise. Occasionally he’s even been a huge power house, it’s just that he’s a bit more situational than I’d like. Sometimes he’s just decent.

Unfortunately, though, lately WotC has been printing a lot of really good cards I’d love to have in foil, but in ways that make them very inaccessible for me. Eternal Masters had a number of cards of this nature, for instance. Mystical Tutor (maybe Enlightened as well, though Mystical is way better in my list), Toxic Deluge, Possibly Dualcaster Mage, Baleful Strix,  Dack Fayden, Wasteland, Top, and Mana Crypt are all cards that stand decent to high chances of making the cut, where I to open a foil or find one at a price I could afford. I think of all those only Dualcaster Mage and Mystical Tutor are actually cheap right now, at $5 and $15 respectively. But I’m not 100% sure either would ultimately make the cut and with the fast pace of new releases lately, finding even $20 to spend on cards that I’m not 100% sure I need is very hard to do.

Meanwhile Kaladesh comes out and really wrecks my shit with the Masterpiece invention series. I got lucky and opened a Scroll Rack masterpiece, which felt great, but bittersweet because I already have the Commander’s Arsenal foil in my big highlander. I still feel like the Masterpiece version is an upgrade, but really it’s a slightly more pimp version of a card I had already pimped pretty well. God, if there isn’t a more #FirstWorldProblem thing out there… “Oh no! I have to replace my expensive foil with a slightly cooler-looking and more expensive foil!” I mean, I seriously don’t mean to complain about that at all, it’s just that I would have been far happier opening something I didn’t already have a nice shiny copy of. But, still, opening a Masterpeice I can and will play is great, regardless of what it is. I’d have been pretty pumped to get a Solemn or Greaves, even.  Ultimately the Masterpiece series is awesome, so I truly don’t intend any real complaint.  Of the Kaladesh inventions, those I would almost certainly snap jam into my big highlander no matter what include:
Noxious Gearhulk (I like all the gearhulks in the right deck, but Noxious is the only one that’s just generically good enough to be played in anything, anywhere),
Chromatic Lantern (already running pack foil, this would be an upgrade),
Crucible of Worlds (had in my wishboard for a long time, but needed all my copies for EDH),
Lightning Greaves (already running FNM promo, major upgrade)
Mana Crypt (Never owned one, but this deck would love to have it)
Mana Vault (Have a few copies, but ugly white border is a dealbreaker no matter how good the card is)
Scroll Rack (as mentioned, running CA foil, but this one is cooler)
Sol Ring (Have a FTV foil, but this is way nicer, probably the best art in the whole Masterpiece line, IMO)
Solemn Simulacrum (like my M12 pack foil but would still happily upgrade)
Sword of Feast and Famine (Would actually prefer the judge promo, to match the judge promos of SoFI and SoLS I already have, but would happily take this in lieu)

So that’s basically 10 out of 30 uber-expensive, hard-to-get foils I would just dearly love to have. I got the Scroll Rack so that’s 1 down, 9 to go. And thanks to the Sword of Feast and Famine masterpiece, the Judge foil is now a lot cheaper and almost what I’d consider affordable. I’d rather have that version anyway, so that’s 2 down. Of the 8 remaining, only 3 of the above are not already in my deck, in some form of foil – Mana Crypt, Mana Vault, and Noxious Gearhulk. Assuming I can live with “peasent” foils of the other 5, that makes 3 that are actual “must have” cards. Unfortunately those three alone would cost me over $300 to acquire, so that’s still way out of reach.

Then there are the handful of older cards that I have yet to foil. Some, like Recurring Nightmare do not have any foil version in existence, so those I just have to live with. Fortunately there are very few of those left thanks to WotC’s recent trend of reprinting old cards in foil. Sylvan Library is just one example of a card I refused to cut even though no foil version existed, and was rewarded by an unexpected reprint years later.

But just to give you an example, here are a few cards I have yet to foil out: Academy Rector ($85), Wheel of Fortune ($160 – had the chance to get one at $25, but didn’t take it. Ouch!), Treachery ($90), Sensei’s Divining Top ($47), Coalition Relic ($65), Land Tax ($90), and Demonic Tutor ($240!!!).

Oh and that’s not even counting the lands… I am lucky enough to have foils of all 10 Ravnica duals (Return block, though, not OG Rav, sadly), and a random assortment of foils of other cycles, though the RAV shocks and the RAV bouncelands are the only cycles I have completed. I have a few SHA/EVN filter lands, a couple of Khans fetches and a few Theros Temples, but many of the ones I am lacking from each of those cycles carry hefty prices tags. Ultimately of course my goal is to be as close to 100% foiled out as possible, and with Expedition/Masterpiece versions where possible. I realize that I’m extraordinarily lucky to be anywhere near as close to that goal as I am, yet the pricess of the remaining 20 or so cards makes me feel as though I will never reach this goal – in fact there is very little room for me to progress closer at all, at this time. I can probably afford the Sword of Feast and Famine and the Mystical Tutor sometime in the next month or two, but beyond those two, just about everything I need is well out of reach.

Of course Kaladesh is more than just masterpieces, right? Is there anything else in this set that I’d want for my big highlander? Let’s see… well, fortunately given my financial constraints the answer is “not really, but maybe”. I did manage to pull a foil Panharmonicon which is certainly iffy, but I’m looking to see how many things in the deck it would actually work with. I do have a TON of creatures with ETBF triggers and a few other things like Wild Pair that it will double, but I have not yet concluded if there are enough viable triggers for it to copy to be worth it – and even then, if I decided it WOULD be worth having, I’d have to find something to cut – that is, something arguable worse than Panharmonicon, and as much as I like Panharmonicon, it’s competing against the likes of Survival of the Fittest and Maelstrom Nexus. Tough call.

Rashmi, Eternities Crafter has impressed me enough I’d definitely consider her good enough to find a slot, but I’m waiting to see what happens with her foil price. Actually I just checked and it looks like she’s around $15 or so, which is way lower than I thought. Might have to get on that sooner rather than later!

I’ve already talked about Noxious Gearhulk, and while I’d absolutely jam the Masterpeice or even a regular pack foil, if I got lucky and opened, one I don’t want it quite badly enough to outright buy either foil version. At $10 for the normal pack foil, it’s certainly not a bad deal or out of reach at all, but it’s just not something I need badly enough. Even $10 is higher than what I’d value it at for this particular deck – again when you’re already playing stuff like Griselbrand and Primeval Titan, even something like the Gearhulk cycle is only so-so. If Noxious drops more, to $5 or $6 I’d definitely have to consider it then.

Finally, I’d almost consider Fumigate worth considering, except for a couple of factors that knock it just a bit below the curve. First, since I only know one person who still has a big highlander deck any more, this is now pretty exclusively a 1v1 format. Fumigate’s value goes way up in multiplayer where there are likely to be way more creatures out. Second, it has to compete with the gold standards of Wrath, Damnation, Decree of Pain, Blasphemous Act, Merciless Eviction, etc. Fumigate is a terrific sweeper by recent standards, but up against all of Magic history, it starts to look pretty lackluster. Maybe if they print a full-art, textless promo of Fumigate its stock starts to go up a bit, but it’s certainly not going to make the cut solely on power level, so upping it’s pimp factor might just push it over the edge!

Of course those evaluations are only taking into account the maindeck. The barrier for entry in the wishboard(s) is a little lower. Torrential Gearhulk, for instance, would probably go straight to the top of the “must run” list if it said “instant or sorcery” but the limitation of Instant-only makes it more of a sideboard card for me. I just don’t feel like I can rely on always having relevant Instants in my graveyard, with a 250-card deck. It might be a little better than I think, but for now I am definitely considering this a wishboard option only, and even then only if I crack a foil or find one and a really low price point. I don’t want it badly enough to go out of my way to get it.

Same for the White gearhulk. I’m running friggin’ Balance maindeck so if I want a second, much-worse version it’s going in the ‘board for sure. But even then I’m not 100% sure I’d want the Gearhulk more than Tragic Arrogance, and I’m not even running that yet, so… maybe/maybe not on this one.

Finally, I might consider Fateful Showdown as a “maybe” as a Cunning Wish target. It’s a cool, unique card and I think I might have opened a foil anyway, so I’d have to see what I might cut from the Cunning wishboard to make room for it. If there’s anything in there that I just don’t often wish for, Showdown might be up for a trial run.

That’s about it for Kaladesh, but I also want to take a quick look at Conspiracy 2 to see if there’s anything I might want. It was such an amazing EDH set, but a lot of that has to do with EDH being multiplayer, and the set focusing on multiplayer/politics. But since I only ever play big highlander 1v1 now, it might not be as full of goodies for that format…

Right off the bat I feel like Recruiter of the Guard is right in that “I’d run it if I opened it, but don’t need it badly enough to go buy it” category. I’d really have to see what legal targets it has besides Mulldrifter, Acidic Slime and Academy Rector. I’m sure it has plenty of things it CAN get, but how many of those are good enough to run a tutor for?

Expropriate, like all the voting cards in this set, gets better the more players in the game, at only two votes this hardly seems worth 9 mana, but I managed to pull a foil out of my box so I want to at least consider it for the wishboard. Unlikely to make the cut, but I have to give it a chance.

Subterranean Tremors might be a wishboard card as well. I think it has a better chance of actually making the cut than Expropriate, but alas I didn’t open a foil of this one, and I don’t think I want it bad enough to go track one down.

Regal Behemoth is the only card with the Monarch mechanic that might be playable, but even this one is pretty iffy. I’d certainly be more than happy to draw the extra card and get the mana-doubling effect, but I’m just not sure how well I can reasonably defend the monarchy in 1v1. Again, if I happen across a foil I might try it, but not so sure about it that I’ll go out of my way to get one.

Berserk – Definitely something I’d love to have as a Cunning Wish target, as it could just win games out of nowhere, but not worth the high price tag.

Leovold – Probably the only card in the set that I am positive I would maindeck without hesitation, but my god the foil price! Even if this guy loses half his value he’ll still be way, way out of my price range. He’s definitely good enough I’d pay a premium for him, above what I’d pay for most cards, but even for Leovold I don’t think he’ll ever reach a price point low enough. I happily paid $60 for a foil Survival of the Fittest and would again, even if I didn’t know the card is worth more now. I just think the card is powerful enough (and the promo art is amazing enough!) to be worth a high price tag. Leovold is super powerful but also a bit of a dick move, so for me that hurts his play value quite a bit. That said, I’d still run him to hose opposing Consecrated Sphinxes and Griselbrands, as well as other broken draw effects. I have just enough “wheel” effects in my list that occasionally that interaction might come up, but not so often that it would be oppressively common. So for a foil of Leo I think I’d be willing to pay $40 to $50 for him, but I’d be surprised if he ever reaches that low a price, and even if he did, it’s not guaranteed I could afford to shell out $50 for a card even if I wanted to.

There’s also the problem that, when it comes to foil Legendary creatures, I’m a good deal more apt to put them at the helm of an EDH deck than I am to resign them to a deck I don’t play that often, especially the pricey ones.

The last thing I want to address is the recent printing of the newest (honorary) Wish. I am of course referring to Call the Gatewatch, the card that lets you “wish” for a Planeswalker. I don’t run many ‘walkers in my deck. Partly this is because the best ones are usually very expensive to acquire in foil, but even more than that, there aren’t a lot of them that are really great in a 1v1 prismatic highlander format. The ones that actually fit both criteria of being good enough to play, but cheap enough to acquire are few and far between. And of the small number that do hit these criteria I often don’t care enough to go find them, for whatever reason. I guess I’m just not a fan of ‘walkers in the big highlander world. But, I’m thinking that a ‘Walker wishboard might just be the way to go. I’d rather have 15 situationally-amazing walkers in my wishboard and just call the Gatewatch and a few truly-worthy ‘walkers in the maindeck. Jace the Mind Sculptor, Nicol Bolas and maybe 1 or 2 others are actually worth having in the maindeck but there are plenty that would make for good wishboard options to be fetched only when they are likely to be relevant.

This is pure theory-craft at this point, but off the top of my head I think my 15-card “Watchboard” might look something like this:

Karn, Silver Golem
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Ajani Vengeant
Chandra, the Firebrand
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Liliana Vess
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Sarkhan Vol
Sarkhan Unbroken
Teferi, Temporal Adept
Tamiyo, Field Researcher
Vraska the Unseen
Venser, the Sojourner
Xenagos, the Reveler

Again, this list would be influenced heavily by what I can actually afford to acquire in foil, but I’d make exceptions for the likes of Karn or Ugin, if I have a non-foil lying around somewhere.

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