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The Hardcore Highlander Challenge Completed

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Hello, folks! In an article about a month ago, I explained a long-term project that I wanted to work on. I wanted to create the largest reasonable Hardcore Highlander decks that I could. What is Hardcore Highlander?

Relentless Rats
Well, Highlander, including formats like Commander, is a format in which you are limited to just one of every card, save for basic lands (and cards like Relentless Rats). In Hardcore, you remove that exception. Every single card in restricted to one, from Swamp to Shadowborn Apostle to Sol Ring.

That will obviously be an interesting challenge! How high can we feasibly go when the entire deck is virtually nonbasic lands?

As a few sidebars, I also wanted to run a five-color deck, with at least ten percent of my nonlands being from each color. If I am going to invest all of that time, I might as well build this thing right, right?

I invited you folks to join this challenge with me and handed out my e-mail to y’all.

What submissions did I look over?

We had a few people decide to go smaller—with some choosing instead a smaller, hundred-card Commander deck. It’s an easier challenge for them. For example, here’s Jon Faffley’s Hardcore Highlander take on Kresh the Bloodbraided:

Kresh the Bloodbraided ? Hardcore Highlander Commander | Jon Faffley

  • Commander (0)

This is a pretty solid take on the Hardcore Highlander concept. Oh, and I want to toss a special toss to Ambush Viper. After including in a budget deck in real life just as an extra body, I’ve become very fond of its ability to play two roles as needed.

So, where did my own deck wind up? Here’s the Google Doc.

Get the Balance Right

As I mentioned in the previous article, the hardest part of this challenge is the mana. Figuring that out will really free you with everything else.

Bog Wreckage
Part of this is me drawing a line. For example, I don’t think Archaeological Dig is good enough to make the cut since it only taps for colorless mana and since you have to sacrifice it to make one of any color. But I do like the similarly-themed Bog Wreckage because it taps for black mana, and I can sacrifice for something else if I really need to. To my mind, the Wreckage makes the cut while the Dig doesn’t.

I have around three hundred sixty lands making the final cut (three hundred sixty-nine actually). That means that if I have a normal sixty/forty land breakdown, I should aim for nine hundred cards total, which leaves five hundred sixty nonland cards for the deck. (I might end up with a few more.) Now, if you’ll recall the color-based aspects of my challenge, that means I need fifty-six cards of each color in the deck. That’s my goal.

The first place I have to look is at the artifact-mana support cards, particularly those that can make any mana. A card like Darksteel Ingot, Manalith, or Scuttlemutt is going to find an immediate home. I didn’t care how janky it was; from Meteorite to Opaline Unicorn to Mana Prism, it went in. I also grabbed the green guys like Birds of Paradise and Joiner Adept while I was hitting that theme. Colorless mana-fetchers like Expedition Map and Solemn Simulacrum followed because they checked multiple boxes.

I also weighed any card that would fetch any land out—from Crop Rotation and Weathered Wayfarer to Sylvan Scrying and Reap and Sow. With such a small number of basic lands to fetch up, I knew we needed more. After looking at my mana base, I realized we had a lot of a certain land type. Take Forests—we could find Forest and the Snow-Covered Forest plus the ten dual lands and Murmuring Bosk, Dryad Arbor, and Sapseep Forest. That’s a lot of Forests to fetch. I dug a little deeper into cards that would search up a Plains, Swamp, or Forest than the basic-land-grabbers. My land-fetchers are more like Ranger's Path than Cultivate. And we can find cards like Shard Convergence or Gem of Becoming that are downright nasty here.

Dealing with “A Big Deck”

Because we have such a large deck, I want to dip into cards that will let us see more cards. These include cyclers like Expunge and Radiant's Judgment and scry effects like Magma Jet and Read the Bones. It’s important to see a lot of cards from the very beginning—the more cards in, the more likely you are to have serious variance.

Merfolk Looter
As someone who plays a two-thousand-seven-hundred-fifty-card monstrosity called Abe’s Deck of Happiness and Joy, let me tell you, I’ve seen some crazy things. Take your typical sixty-card deck. What are the chances that, after any given random shuffle, that there will be a run of ten nonlands in a row somewhere in the deck? It’s pretty unlikely, right? But in a nine-hundred-card deck, the likelihood of such a streak existing is much higher, and you could easily have two or three such streaks. Abe’s Deck of H&J, I run every single Looter effect that I can (such as Merfolk Looter) because that can help me dig deeply to find lands and good stuff, and to break through the occasional weirdness. I get it. I have Goblin Charbelcher’d someone for more than 10 damage sometime because I hit a stack of nonlands.

This is also a great home for those casual-tastic cards that don’t fit into most Commander decks due to color identity. I’ll give you a great example: Wargate. I adore Wargate. It’s the best tutor/problem-maker/answer-finder that you could want. But outside of Bant and five-color decks, you can’t run it in Commander. This project is a great place to run cards like Lavalanche and Torrent Elemental.

I looked for cards that would just kick ass in a five-color deck—many that aren’t able to stretch their muscles much in Commander. These are cards like All Suns' Dawn, Etched Oracle, and Bringer of the Blue Dawn. I steered very far from the domain cards—I’m not sure that an effect like Tribal Flames plays into the wonky land base.

After I tossed in cards that I thought were fun, land-fetching stuff, mana-making, five-color good stuff, and more, the next place I wanted to hone in on was any sort of theme that worked for my deck. You might as well have a theme, right? You can literally find space for any Magic ever made in this challenge, so you need to find a way to figure out what works and plays together.

I thought about something like token creatures or +1/+1 counters—every color has cards that fit those two themes. Neither really sold me. Perhaps I could do morph. It’s a recently-revisited mechanic from Tarkir that also has some fun follow-up in Time Spiral and Onslaught blocks. That’d work.

Crystal Shard
But I decided to delve into a territory that I think is funner: The Bouncy Castle!

I am using things that make things bounce. You can bounce your own stuff! You can bounce opposing stuff. You can do both at once. Get your bounce on, baby!

This theme works with cards that have awesome enters-the-battlefield triggers. I tossed in cards both cheap and expensive with abilities both fun and backbreaking. Obviously, you’ll have the expected bunch like Reclamation Sage and Mulldrifter taking up space. Beyond that, though, we have a lot of space to fill, and that enables the deck to fully flesh out that theme.

Let me give you a few fun examples. Want to draw cards early and often? How about Sea Gate Oracle, Raven Familiar, or Cryptic Annelid? We have cards like Zealous Conscripts, Haze Frog, and Mindclaw Shaman. And all of these cards work; it’s not as though I’m running Hunting Moa or anything.

What sort of self-bouncing am I taking about? How about Cloudstone Curio; will that work? Just play a dork, bounce another to play, and keep on trucking. You can use Crystal Shard or Erratic Portal, too.

I also layered a lot of Flicker engines on top like chocolate syrup. We have Conjurer's Closet, Nephalia Smuggler, and Venser, the Sojourner all hanging around. Because Flicker effects play well with the same mechanic, right? Right! (Oh, and friends don’t let friends play with Deadeye Navigator. But I still ran Commander heavies Primeval Titan and Sylvan Primordial because we just need lands way too much, and it’s not as though a nine-hundred-card deck is prone to abuse of any single card.)

Citanul Flute
Speaking of that, there are some classically underused cards out there, such as Citanul Flute, that are just perfect for a larger deck project like this one. It’s not the only creature-fetcher we are running either—in an odd environment like this one, you can tutor for the right answer to anything from a creature (Bone Shredder, Nekrataal, Flametongue Kavu) to non-critters (Ogre Arsonist, Indrik Stomphowler).

And the final cherry on top of our Highlander sundae is ninjutsu. Sure, we have included the useful ones that have awesome triggers, such as Silent-Blade Oni and Ninja of the Deep Hours. But these folks also add another layer of bouncing and Flickering to our ETB suite of stuff.

I also made a choice not to be a dork. Remember one of the key rules about multiplayer: Don’t be a d*&k! It’s extremely important, especially in a slow-moving environment like this one. So you won’t see cards like Anathemancer. Now, if you want to run Incendiary Command or Goblin Ruinblaster, that’s fine by me, but let’s not overegg the land-destruction pudding.

In the appendix of this article, you’ll be able to check out my full-on deck. Get ready for the fun to develop!

And that’s my challenge done! Whew! Nine hundred cards later, I have a deck that doesn’t have any repeated cards, so it’s a thing. Remember that you can Hardcore Highlander all you want. Hardcore that Commander deck or make it the theme for your next Magic night. Get all crazy! I hope you liked it.

Appendix A

I have an online forum game that I created that I am just starting. It’s extremely detailed, based a bit on various RPGs, such as Dungeons & Dragons. It’s a lot of fun, and if you are interested in following it, check it out.

Appendix B

Get ready!

The nine-hundred-card deck:

Colorless ? Hardcore Highlander Challenge | Abe Sargent

Blue ? Hardcore Highlander Challenge | Abe Sargent

Green ? Hardcore Highlander Challenge | Abe Sargent

Multicolored ? Hardcore Highlander Challenge | Abe Sargent

That’s a big deck!


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