Ask the Judge, 08/20/2004: Feature Friday
FEATURE FRIDAY: ELDER DRAGON HIGHLANDER
This week we're going to discuss another alternate format, called Elder Dragon Highlander. Not only that, I'm offering a challenge and a contest. More on those later. The format was introduced to me by my old friend David Phifer up in Anchorage (although David says that fellow Anchorage denizen Adam Staley is to thank for creating the format). I never got around to playing it with the gang up there, but I witnessed many fun and interesting matches, so I introduced it to my local group when I moved here to Virginia.
The format is covered at David's Magic page , but in short, here's how it goes (if you read David's page, you'll see that locally we've modified it a bit to fit the collections of the group):
You pick a Legend as your General. The format is called"Elder Dragon" Highlander because originally it had to be one of the five Elder Dragons from Legends, but the format quickly outgrew five players. I'd still like to see players playing only Dragons as their General, but that's just my taste. Here are the selections of my local group:Me: Arcades Sabboth (the weakest of the originals, but I wanted the colors)
Brian: Tsabo Tavoc
Chuck: Nicol Bolas
Todd: Dakkon Blackblade
Justin: Treva, the Renewer
Joe B: Rith, the Awakener
You may only play spells that have the colors of your General plus artifacts. You can see that most folks have three colors to choose from, but Brian has restricted himself to two. You're not even allowed to generate mana of a color that's not"yours." You can play a card that has an ability outside your colors, but you can't ever play the ability (like Brian could play Illuminate, he just couldn't play the blue Kicker). If something would generate mana that is outside your colors, it generates colorless instead.
Decks must be exactly 100 cards. Not much to say about that.
Every card is restricted, save basic land. This is one major departure from the Alaska original, where even basic land is restricted. We did this because the collections of some of the gang are much more recent, and you really need to delve into the past if you want to play 40 unique lands in your colors. You also can't play someone else's General.
A General may not be removed from the game (unless you want to remove your own). If you Swords to Plowshares an opponent's General, it goes to the graveyard. If it would be RFG from the graveyard, it's shuffled back into the library instead. You may, however, choose to RFG your own General should you wish to.
Players start with life equal to 200 divided by the number of players. Although two players can play, this was designed as a multiplayer format. Round up in the case of fractions; three players each get 67 life to start.
Banned List: Test of Endurance (duh), and the five Wishes are banned.
David has put Biorhythm on his Watch List (no one here has used it), and we're currently watching Beacon of Immortality and Mortal Combat. I recently started abusing the former; no one has abused the latter, but I can see it happening rather quickly with the right deck.
Rules Note: Mortal Combat won't trigger at the beginning of your upkeep unless you already have 20 or more creatures in your graveyard. You can't put the trigger on the stack and then do Hermit Druid or similar tricks to then meet the condition. If the condition isn't already met, it won't trigger. The condition will also recheck on resolution to make sure it's still true.
Alternate loss condition: If you take 21 points of damage from a single General, you lose. Unlike the normal rules of the game, this is tracked even if the General damages you, leaves play, then comes back and damages you again. After all, there is only one Rith, the Awakener.
Here's my deck:
WHITEAkroma, Angel of Wrath
Beacon of Immortality
Bringer of the White Dawn
Decree of Justice
Swords to Plowshares
Wrath of God
BLUEBeacon of Tomorrows
Bringer of the Blue Dawn
Whispers of the Muse
Defense of the Heart
Kamahl, Fist of Krosa
Tooth and Nail
Helm of Obedience
Staff of Domination
LAND (highlights only):Karakas
Maze of Ith
The rest is stuff you'd expect (dual lands, painlands in the appropriate colors, etc.).
You see that I've added a few specifically anti-black cards. That's because before Joe started playing, only Justin and I didn't have black. I figured that especially Compost would be well worth its cost. I wasn't wrong about that. If everyone shows, Crusading Knight can get pretty huge. Of course, I've seen a few Marauding Knights running around as well.
The idea behind the deck is to get huge fatties into play and start laying the beatdown, gaining the odd bit of life, and protecting myself early with multiple Wrath effects. The higher life totals than normal lead to more time to build up, but you still have to be careful that you don't get completely ripped apart before you can gain some equilibrium. After getting the big guns into play, it's all about control. You'll see there's a good deal of card drawing (more than once, Ophidian has saved me from a crappy early hand), and I frequently have to discard before passing the turn (hey...Spellbook? Library of Leng? Nah.).
If I were to choose a few MVPs, it'd be Defense of the Heart (early Darksteel Colossus and blue Bringer mean savage beats--especially if I then Copy Artifact the Iron Giant--and much control), Karakas ("your General doesn't scare me!"), the aforementioned Ophidian, and Mystic Snake, who has saved my bacon more times than I can count. Among the disappointments have been Kamahl, who I've never gotten to use with the"turn your lands do dudes, play Wrath" trick, and Staff of Domination, which has simply been thoroughly mediocre.
There are some cards that you might wonder why I'm not playing. Palinchron is the first that comes to mind. It was in the original build, but after I Tutored him up with Mirari's Wake in play and Capsize in my hand a few times, it got boring. It's a great combo, but after a while it became a snoozefest. For the challenge below, I'll probably put him back in. Call of the Wild or Elvish Piper seem interesting, but I've found that small creatures have a tough time surviving, and there are too many good non-creature spells to risk throwing them away in the long game (although Battlefield Scrounger is there to help with that). I've also considered the Rattlesnake effect of Academy Rector. The gang definitely doesn't want to see Mirari's Wake hit the table. If there are cards you think I should play, drop me a line and tell me why.
I'm going to award $25 in Star City credit to the person who comes up with the coolest deck in this format (as judged by me) using Lord of Tresserhorn as the General. Not only must the deck use Tresserhorn's three colors, but it must be designed to turn his drawbacks into advantages. Deadline for entries is Thursday, 26 August 2004, at 6pm Eastern time. Email them to me at email@example.com. You can just like the nonbasic lands you want to use; I'll figure out the basics. I'll be announcing the winner next Friday. If I can put it together in time, I might even play it at The Elder Dragon Highlander Challenge.
THE ELDER DRAGON HIGHLANDER CHALLENGE
This challenge will be open to Certified Judges, members of the Magic writing community, Star City readers, and perhaps a few special guests. On the Sunday night of Worlds (that's the 5th of September), I'll host the Elder Dragon Highlander Multiplayer Challenge, somewhere in the event hall (I'll post something at the Side Events area sometime early in the weekend). Start time will be dependent on the finish time of the Main Event (but we're going to shoot for 90 minutes after the awards ceremony). The only thing you'll have to bring besides your deck is a few crap rares (whatever you think that might be) for yet-to-be announced purposes.
If you'd like to participate, you'll have to contact me in advance at firstname.lastname@example.org (remember that I'm leaving for SF on the 31st). Generals will be reserved on a first-come, first-serve basis (although there are plenty of variations on what color scheme you want to use if someone snags your first choice). None of the guys in my local group will be there (besides me, naturally), so you can feel free to cherry-pick their Generals if you want. We'll run multiple tables if interest is insanely high, and we'll play as long as there is interest.