15-card highlander


Sammy Dead-O

This may have been discussed here at some point, but I've seen it come up on a few other boards, and it seems fun. Has anyone tried the 15-card highlander format? It's exactly as it sounds...decks of exactly 15 cards, only one of anything besides basic land, you can't lose by decking. If played competitively, use 3-card sideboards.

Whadday'all think? If anyone's tried it, what cards did you find to be especially abusive?

Hmm...and a deck...Three Deuce...

Elvish Lyrist
Skyshroud Elite
Mogg Fanatic
Dwarven Miner
River Boa

Cursed Scroll
Swords to Plowshares
Land Grant

Treetop Village
Mountain Valley

Actually, stuff that reduces the size of your library might be bad in this format. Seems fun to try, anyway...


We talked a lot about it a few month back when Gizmo planned on participating to a tournament where, if my mermory doesnt fail me, the prize was a Black lotus.

I'm just too lazy to find it our for you :)


I competed, and came second in, the 15-card tournament although it was standard-format.
I wrote several articles about it...

This is where I first outlined the format, and gave some initial deck ideas:

This was written after the tournament, and lists the best decks from that day:

And after about a half hour using the search engine (you'd better appreciate this) this is the thread on the CPA:

There ya go. It was all standard, not extended or T1, but it`s all good advice...


Oh, and in my experience it is crucial to get a good list of banned cards - turn 1 kills are very possible if you let people pick from anything as the combos can only be a few cards into your library.

Sammy Dead-O

...I do appreciate it, quite a bit.

I've been thinking about the format quite a bit today, and I had a lot of really positive thoughts about it. And then, Gizmo, I see that you summed up those wrinkles in my brain quite nicely with this paragraph:

Originally written by David Sutcliffe
But damned addictive. Designing decks takes only ten minutes, and when you finish you're ready to start on another idea - no matter how many decks you have built, you always feel like there's room for one more design on your table - as the waiter says in The Meaning Of Life, "But sir, it is only WAFER thin". This is Fun-Sized Magic - thirty little bite-sized portions in a single bag, perfect for parties. And then there's playtesting , which is fast and furious with games lasting around five minutes at most, and the small size of the decks reduces the impact of luck on the environment - if you only draw a single land then you know that five of your next eight cards are land, so take a risk and keep the hand. Building decks is quick, easy, and above all cheap - no need for four copies of a brutal rare in 15-Card Highlander.
This is, finally, the constructed format that is bridging the gap between my enjoyment of tweaking and my exhaustion at dealing with the little details. My over-messy, under-massive collection is no longer such a liability. I only have one Lord of Atlantis, for crying out loud! Now I can build a fish deck without proxies.

If anyone's interested, two decks my friend and I tried out tonight were:

Fifteen Tons (of junk)
Thornscape Familiar
Crimson Acolyte
Voice of All
Llanowar Knight
Parallax Wave
Armadillo Cloak
Elfhame Palace
2x Forest
2x Plains


Revolution 15
Ramosian Sergeant
Steadfast Guard
Fresh Volunteers
Longbow Archer
Voice of All
Chimeric Idol
4x Plains

The first deck was definitely better in the matchup. I'm gonna try and tweak the T2 WW theme, though (I realize Crusade and Armageddon are no longer T2...).

Also, I agree with Captain Caveman (in the CPA thread linked above) that Rootwater Thief might be good in the format. I think Hanna would also provide for a stable midgame (which is what really matters much of the time, since the late game seems to never come). A U/W deck might be a good bet.

Dune Echo

I saw a resurgence of that idea recently on Star City by another author besides Gizmo. I liked idea that he presented that 15 Card Highlander could be extended to include all cards and formats (Type I, etc.) My question becomes, what cards are essential to being banned in this type of environment for this variant?

If you think about it, Yawgmoth's Agenda and Yawgmoth's will essentially break the design constrictions of this variant, so are they too powerful? Same with Timetwister and Windfall. But does Avenging Angel and Ivory Gargoyle? Also, what first turn combos (other than the Mountain, Black Lotus, Channel, and random burn spell with X in the casting cost) are possible? I know that I experimented with a Gaea's Blessing in a Red/Green burn/recursion deck with Recycle that could be fairly broken in this type of format.

However, in 15, card drawing doesn't matter versus card advantage, so Ancestral Recall isn't nearly as broken (it may still be in this format depending on the amount of recursion left once a proper Banned list is thought up). And I would love to see someone try using Diminishing Returns against me!

So, obviously recursion and milling are extremely unbalancing to this format, but where is the line drawn? Is a card like Restock or Ill Gotten Gains too powerful because they remove themselves from the game?

Any ideas people?


"15" Wildfire

Mountain x 5
City of Traitors
Ghitu Encampment
Heart of Ramos
Thran Dynamo
Covetous Dragon
Wake of Destruction
Shivan Hellkite
Powder Keg


Ill Gotten Gains is ok because both players pick up cards.

Doomsday proved a problem card, however.

Anything that recrus effectively is broken - um, Soldevi Digger? Gaea`s Blessing?
Anything that won`t die is very strong - we had Nether Spirit on watch list but chose not to ban it (I`m not sure why, I think it was too strong personally).
Anything that mills is very strong - Vision Charm is a wrecker.
Anything that discards hard cards is strong - Hymn!! Ouch.

Sammy Dead-O

...I'd like to work on this banned/restricted question, too. Gizmo: Did you play your NetherStack deck to the finals? Was it another Nether deck that won? On a post over at the MTGnews boards, MrFranswa posted the following as a banned/restricted list for current T2 15:

Curent Banned Rules/Cards........

CANNOT reshuffle your graveyard into your library
CANNOT remove cards from opponents library
CANNOT have more than 1 LD card in your deck, (ld rules the enviroment if more are used)

Crumbeling Sanctuary

Current Restriction, (can pnly play one of any of these cards in a deck)

Clear the Land
Nether Spirit
Seizemic Mage
Squee Goblin Naboobies
Lin Sivvy

What do y'all say about these?

It seems to me that the 1.5 banned list is a good place to start when discussing bannings for larger formats. Anything on there that becomes weaker in 15, thus allowing for unbanning?

Also, I tried out a couple more themed 15s today:

Merfolk of the Pearl Trident
Darting Merfolk
Coral Merfolk
Arctic Merfolk
Lord of Atlantis
Power Sink (thought it was in 7th...)
Wash Out
5x Island


Mogg Sentry
Raging Goblin
Goblin Digging Team
Goblin Raider
Mogg Jailer
Goblin King
Giant Strength
Volcanic Hammer
Rhystic Lightning
Flame Rift
5x Mountain

This format absodanglutely rocks.


How about highlander in type 2?

I made this:

4 Swamps
1 Peat Bog
1 Island

1 Dark Ritual
1 Duress
1 Bod Down
1 Rain of Tears
1 Befoul
1 Recoil
1 Yawgmoth's Agenda
1 Ravenous Rats
1 Chimeric Idol

Yeah, I guess Agenda would be too powerful though... I put the island for recoil, because I don't like the possibility of second turn Scuta, which I can't really deal with otherwise. Addle might be better, but if opponent topdecks it, and you're not destroying his land like crazy, he might just win.


1 Cremate (Pyre Zombie)
and some combination of following:
Crypt Rats

Dune Echo

So recursion is bad, I can prove that with my Gaea's Blessing deck. But what kind of recursion? Any kind of recursion includes Ivory Gargoyle and Avenging Angel. Also, what about cards like Regrowth, Reclaim, Revive, and Restock? Is the recursion with those cards too powerful? Or is recurion okay as long as both players benefit, such as Ill-Gotten Gains? I can see Avenging Angel and Shivan Phoenix and Weatherseed Treefolk in a Sneak Attack Deck.

Gizmo says that Gaea's Blessing and Soldevi Digger are too strong, which I agree it can be. But let me tell ya, it is very hard to make an effective engine with Gaea's Blessing that can't be disrupted by a single counterspell or Rapid Decay or Tormod's Crypt, which my deck can't handle at all. Also, there are multiple cards that remove a spell/creature from the game that may be neccessary to have in such a limited format (deck size-wise) depending on whether or not certain recursion is allowed or not. Without recursion, they may be not strong enough, but with it, they may be too strong. I know with my Gaea's Blessing recursion deck, I can use a Swords to Plowshares or Diabolic Edict multiple times.

I really like the idea listed above that says that no card that recurs the entire graveyard should be allowed, which allows for power cards like Gaea's Blessing and Avenging Angel and Lin Sivvi.

Also, speed in a much larger card pool could be a problem, as I can prove with my Gaea's Blessing deck. There is one card I think shouldn't be banned that's fast and that's Mana Crypt. It is a speed demon, yes, but it will eventually end any stalemate if a person uses it, which can be part of an interesting Donate deck.

Dune Echo

I spoke with Gizmo briefly via email about this, and he pointed out some cards right off the bat that are dangerous and powerful and thirdly, those that need to be watched. I have a Word Document with the list partially made up, but I hope to complete it some time in the near future.

I also have a list of decks and their sources. Anyone that wants to help me develop this particular format, please do! I will be happy to answer all emails. If you want the full document so far, email me, and I'll put you on a list for updates.


Here's an interesting little idea for you:

6x Island
Thought Lash
Dream Cache
Arcane Denial
Force Spike
Helm of Obedience

Donate the Thought Lash to your opponent, and watch his library disappear at the speed of light. :) Soothsaying is basically a Vampiric Tutor in this deck, as is Dream Cache. Helm of Obedience equals milling fun combined with creature defense, and low-mana countermagic offers protection.

Incidentally, wouldn't Altar of Dementia belong on either the watch list or the banned list?

Dune Echo

I'm going to go ahead and start sending out updates to anyone that has expressed interest in this format.

So far, that's only Christopher Hearns (from Star City), Gizmo, Sammy Dead-O, and Istanbul. Also, I have a Word document with everything so far, if anyone wants it, ask to be added to my list.

Istanbul and anyone else: I need your email addy to add to my list. Email me ASAP, please.

Basically, I'm pulling out any card that does MASSIVE recursion to the deck. Gizmo pointed out the following:
(Gizmo: If you are offended by me quoting you, please let me know, and I'll edit these comments out immediately)
I`d probably consider any recursion much stronger than, say, Restock, to be a problem (Restock being offset by high casting cost) but not necessarily immediately bannable. But in this format being able to play even 16 cards, not 15, is usually worth a win, and would certainly mean you auto-win against a lot of decks.
Here's the latest I've come up with. If anyone can help me out or sees something I have definitely missed, let me know (kk200018@ncr.com). Remember, I'm still working on it, but I would appreciate help for anything post-Weatherlight.

Banned List:
Black Lotus
Crumbling Sanctuary
Enduring Renewal
Feldon’s Cane
Hymn to Tourach
Hypnotic Specter
Mana Vault
Mox Emerald
Mox Jet
Mox Pearl
Mox Sapphire
Mox Ruby
Paradigm Shift
Serra Avatar
Soldevi Digger
Thran Foundry
Time Spiral
Vision Charm
Wand of Denial

Strong Cards (because they bend the limits of deck building in 15CH, or the disadvantage is nullified):
All Hallow’s Eve
Argivian Find
Avenging Angel
Balduvian Dead
Booby Trap
Bogardan Phoenix
Coffin Queen
Corpse Dance
Cursed Scroll
Disturbed Burial
Forbidden Crypt
Funeral Charm
Hammer of Bogardan
Ill-Gotten Gains
Krovikan Horror
Living Death
Lodestone Bauble
Night Soil
Phyrexian Grimoire
Scalding Tongs
Soldevi Sentry
Tolarian Serpent

Watch List:
Altar of Dementia
Ashnod’s Cylix
Bösium Strip
Drafna’s Restoration
Field of Souls
Gaea’s Blessing
Guiding Spirit
Helm of Obedience
Ivory Gargoyle
Jester’s Cap
The Rack
Yawgmoth’s Agenda
Yawgmoth's Will

I am heavily leaning towards banning Yawgmoth's Agenda and Yawgmoth's Will. Both provide significant possible advantages in deck size over your opponent despite being disruptable which is essentially what Gizmo has pointed out is dangerous to the environment. Yawgmoth's Will is certainly comparable to Restock.


I`d say you want to ban any card that becomes a 'must play' in that you either play that card or something specifically to kill that card. In the end it`s going to be a huge helping of trial and error, we didn`t ban Millstone until after the tournament...

Dune Echo

I can see why this card got banned, it can make some serious card advantage in this type of format if you can get it out quickly. Did you end up banning all Millstone-type cards? Istanbul's Helm deck could be quite dangerous.

Also, I've seen quite a few people using/suggesting Nether Spirit, which seems to fit your definition for a card that needs to be banned. Also, I think it was Istanbul asked if it should be banned.


Would Rishadan Pawnshop be another one to watch for? Consider it as a way to conceivably avoid decking forever.

Stroke of Genius, Braingeyser, and Ancestral Recall should be watched for as well. Forcing another player to draw X cards, well...that's pretty obvious. And Ancestral Recall suddenly becomes better than any Bolt could ever be.

Forbidden Crypt could be very strong in this format. Basically enlarges your library size by who-knows-how-much.

Here's a thought for ya:

6x Swamp
Bad Moon
Unholy Strength
Sinister Strength
Order of the Ebon Hand
Black Knight
Vampire Bats
Fallen Askari

20 comes pretty fast with this bad boy...

Dune Echo

Istanbul: I don't know if you're taking into account that you don't lose if you can't draw a card in this format. However, if there is a way to make your opponent draw all of her/his deck on your first turn, you've just milled her/him for at least 7 at the end of her/his next turn.

P.S. Please get me your email address, Istanbul.

Rishadan Pawnshop is conceivably quite good actually. Take a look at some of the deck ideas that Gizmo posted on his website.

Forbidden Crypt is deffinitely on the Watch List along with Yawgmoth's Agenda. I agree with Gizmo that anything that can potentially increase the size of your deck beyond the 15 is good, Restock needs to be the limit for that I think. I don't know for sure yet.

Dune Echo

Anyway to shore this up for more reliability? It's extremely succeptible to creature kill, but it could work.

Colors: Green
Created by: Kirsin Koch
Description/Theme: Get a lot of high power but cheap creatures into play quickly, then cast Phyrexian Dreadnought and recycle your graveyard

1 Argothian Wurm
1 Blastoderm
1 Citanul Centaurs
1 Eladamri’s Vineyard
1 Geaa’s Blessing
1 Hunted Wumpus
1 Reclaim

1 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Phyrexian Processor

4 Forest
1 Tropical Island
1 Yavimaya Coast

1 Blossoming Wreath
1 Defense Grid
1 Reins of Power

The other idea I had was Aluren with cards like Cradle Guard, Fallow Wurm, and Megatherium, and then cast the Phyrexian Dreadnought. If you don't have Gaea's Blessing or we decide to ban it, Haunted Crossroads can fill that spot.

Colors: Black/Green
Created by: Kirsin Koch
Description/Theme: Cast Aluren, put all your 3-cc creatures into play, and then play Phyrexian Dreadnought then recycle your creatures

1 Haunted Crossroads
1 Phyrexian Negator

1 Aluren
1 Cradle Guard
1 Megatherium

1 Ebony Treefolk
1 Llanowar Dead

1 Phyrexian Dreadnought
1 Phyrexian Processor

1 Bayou
3 Forest
1 Llanowar Wastes
1 Swamp

1 ?
1 ?
1 ?


Why is Phyrexian Dreadnought good? Isn`t it just a way of turning thre of your cards into a single that they can Disenchant? I always thought Dreadnought was terrible because you`d rather have 6 2/2s than 1 12/12.