The first thing that comes to mind when you think of singleton formats is Commander, or maybe Brawl with the new format taking off. But it turns out that singleton formats have been around longer than even EDH – I remember playing actual highlander back in the day – and there are plenty of great ones out there.
Like Canadian Highlander. This has been the preferred format of many people on the coverage team and inside Wizards of the Coast over the past few years, and it's easy to see why. Marshall Sutcliffe gave a full introduction to the format here, but the short version is this: you get 100 cards – no commander – and there are no limits on the colors you can put in your deck. And there's essentially no banlist – in its place is a system that introduces a much interesting deckbuilding challenge: a points system.
I won't get into the full details here (seriously, just read the intro article I linked if you want the full details), but the short version is you get 10 "points" to spend on cards for your deck. 99% of cards are zero points, but a select few cost you points, from things like Balance or Stoneforge Mystic being one point, to Time Walk costing you six points and Ancestral Recall taking up a full seven points. What this system does is create some really interesting choices in deckbuilding – tutors and fast mana are taxed the most – and with no commander tying it together, you get really innovative decks and exciting games that never play out the same.
Speaking of exciting games, and Marshall, he and I teamed up to battle some of this crazy format, and the results were as awesome as expected. He battled with a couple new decks he's been testing, while I brought my tried-and-true Jeskai Combos deck to the table.
There's a lot going on with a 100-card singleton format, but I'll break things down as best I can. My deck aims to play the control role while working to assemble one of several combos that either win the game on the spot or lock things up over a few turns. My points were spent on Ancestral Recall (7) because who doesn't want to cast Ancestral? I used a point on Stoneforge Mystic and my final two on Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise. One other neat note about this format – gold-bordered cards are legal, so even something like Ancestral Recall or Underground Sea can be within your reach.
When I built this deck I wanted to have the ability to end games in an instant, and that means we got to go really deep on the combos. Here is the basic list:
- Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker or Splinter Twin with Restoration Angel, Deceiver Exarch or Village Bell-Ringer to attack for infinite damage.
- Painter's Servant and Grindstone. With Painter out, Grindstone will mill an opponent's entire library with one activation.
- Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek. While this one doesn't end the game on the spot, it does make it very difficult for most decks to beat.
The deck does a great job at supporting these combos. You don't always need them to win, of course – Young Pyromancer can take over a game just fine all on its own – but with so much redundancy built in it's surprisingly easy to piece together a combo.
The artifact-based tutors do the most work. Tezzeret the Seeker can piece together any missing part of our Painter/Grindstone or Thopter Foundry/Sword combo and put it directly into play – meaning you're always just one card away from winning when you have one piece already – and Fabricate puts in work on this front as well. Muddle the Mixture can transmute for either half of Thopter Foundry/Sword or Painter's Servant – and Trinket Mage can go find the Grindstone.
Speaking of Trinket Mage, that card does work in this format. It turns out that when the card isn't relegated to always searching for Sol Ring like in Commander (it costs three points in Canadian Highlander), it has a ton of versatility packed into it. It will often grab Grindstone, but in my deck it also gives you access to removal in Engineered Explosives, a grindy creature in Hangarback Walker or even a land with Seat of the Synod – which is also a tech play to fetch out with Tezzeret the Seeker.
The best part of this deck is that people must play in constant fear of your combos. Do they tap out for a Jace, the Mind Sculptor only to die to an end-step Deceiver Exarch into Splinter Twin? Do they waste removal on Young Pyromancer only to have Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker land and kill them? This deck constantly presents hard questions that leaves opponents without a right answer.
Of course, while they're forced to play scared this deck can just load up on value. Card draw, countermagic and planeswalkers all work together to win the card advantage war, while a fast Young Pryomancer or Stoneforge Mystic can run away with the game all on their own – it turns out Batterskull is busted even in this format.
The other great thing about Canadian Highlander is that all your pet cards can find a home. I love getting people with Abeyance or Aven Mindcensor, while Dragonlord Ojutai can combo with Minamo, School at Water's Edge to live the dream. Even Keranos, God of Storms is a viable win condition.
I've really enjoyed all the Canadian Highlander I've played, and while most of my play these days is online only thanks to my deck getting stolen a while back, I love jamming games whenever I get the chance. I hope you had as much fun with this as I did, and I encourage you to give the format a shot with your friends if you're looking for a change of pace.
Thanks for reading,
If seeing sweet Canadian Highlander combos from my seat isn't enough, Marshall Sutcliffe also recorded and shared what happened from his side.
Marshall is a huge Canadian Highlander fan so it's worth listening to what he had to say if you want to get going with the format!