Canadian Highlander Intro



14 December 2018


Canadian Highlander is one of my favorite formats and this article will show you a glimpse at one of the best Magic formats.

Rule points

Canadian Highlander is a format for Constructed magic with specific deckbuilding rules:

  • Deck size - Your deck must be a minimum of 100 cards, all singleton, so no more than one copy of any card, except basic lands and stuff like Relentless Rats . There are no sideboards in Canadian Highlander.

  • Card legality - any card legal in Vintage is legal in this format too, so do not dust off the Ante cards and the Conspiracies you have! Additionally, even gold-bordered cards are 100% legal in the format, which helps a lot with costs. A gold-bordered Force of Will is about ten times cheaper than its black-bordered counterpart.

  • Mulligans - Each player is allowed two mulligans at 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1, in addition to the Vancouver mulligan rule.

  • Everything else - Aside from that, all other rules are the same as normal constructed matches - 1 on 1 gameplay, 20 life for each player, etc. Tournaments are usually played in best of 3 fashion.

  • One more thing "But, Boza, all that would lead to a broken format, which is basically full of OP old cards like the power 9!" - I hear you say. Well, the creators of the format knew that and envisioned a points list to curb power levels. What is this you ask?

Points List

The list is a variant of a ban list employed in other formats. A handful of powerful cards in the format such as the beforementioned power 9, have points assigned to them by a committee regulating the format, updated every 3 months. You can have only 10 points worth of cards for every 100 cards in your deck.

For example, Flash and Protean Hulk form a powerful combo that can usually win the game, but they are worth 3 and 7 points respectively, so if you choose to run those, you cannot run any other powerful pointed card.

What is the point?

Why a points list and not a simple banlist? The goal here is to allow flexibility, while still employing restrictions. While the majority of cards on the list are 1 point, the most powerful ones like Black Lotus are still legal, but are 7 or even 8 points. Thus, there is a very real limit to what powerful cards you can actually play in the format.

There are generally three types of cards on the points list - tutors, fast mana and general powerhouses.

Tutors for specific things like Enlightened Tutor are generally 1 point, but more general ones like Demonic Tutor are pointed higher.

Fast mana from power 9 cards like moxes and hidden power 9 card Sol Ring are costed at 3 points, while others like Mana Vault are pointed at less.

Powerhouses are cards that simply have powerful effects. For example, Treasure Cruise is the poster child of Ancestral Recall , which are pointed at 1 and 6 respectively, while the brother to Ancestral, called Time Walk is costed at 5, so you cannot have both brothers in the deck - it was not in the cards for them...

The "points spread" is the common name for your deck's use of the pointed cards. Example time!

Let's say you are running Golgari Midrange, affectionately known as The Rock (no relation to either Dwayne Johnson or that movie about Alcatraz with Sean Connery). You are all about deploying permanents to the battlefield and gaining value from everything you play. The Golgari Midrange deck in Standard and in CanLander have very similar gameplay goals.

For your pointed cards, you can choose the combination of - Mox Emerald (3 pts), Mox Jet (3 pts), Sol Ring (3 pts) and Mana Vault (1 pts). That will give you a huge mana accelaration early on and a great advantage.

Or you can choose Demonic Tutor (3 pts), Birthing Pod (2 pts), Mind Twist (1 pt), Survival of the Fittest (2 pts) and Gifts Ungiven (2 pts) - you get a great set of tutors and flexibility in your decks.

Or anything in between! Noticed the Gifts Ungiven suggestion for a BG deck? Unlike a certain format, there is no commander identity thing stopping you from splashing a couple of powerful cards, you can play any colors you want.

You can find a link to the full points list in the resource section a bit later in the article.

Getting the point across

Now that you know how CanLander goes, lets get in some tidbits that are important, but not large enough for their own section:

  • This format has many nicknames - Cube constructed (imagine taking a Vintage Power 9 cube and picking 100 cards to make your deck) and Singleton Vintage/Legacy (the power level is about the same, but much, much more affordable than the actual Vintage/Legacy) are the ones I have heard most often.

  • No two games are the same - the flexible points list and singleton nature of the game ensure that you can change your deck on the fly and have it behave completely differently. Or playing against different decks of the same archetype can feel completely different, so no two games are the same.

  • Deckbuilding is extremely open and surprisingly cheap - you really do not need a lot of $$$ to play. Most of the cards you want to play are powerful singles in other formats, so you already have a say Tireless Tracker laying around; gold cards are completely legal in the format, making decks even cheaper; since there are really no official tournaments, groups can agree to have proxies allowed, for at least the pointed cards.

  • Metagame is well balanced - some of the most powerful decks in the format are straightforward and approachable - for example, Goblin tribal or Mono green Gaea's Cradle plus Craterhoof Behemoth lists or a straight GB Rock midrange deck - while other powerful decks are much more complex - combo storm lists, various flavors of blue control, stax decks, powerful artifact-based Affinity aggro decks...

  • Thriving tournament scene - if you live in Victoria, Canada and play Magic, you probably already know about Canadian Highlander - they have tournaments every week on Monday and Thursday over there. What that means for the rest of us is two-fold - there aren't a lot of formats that are still popular a decade after their creation; and for those outside of that very specific geographical location, it means that you have ready access to the latest tournament tech every single week.

Pointing to examples

I will direct you to a couple of my own decks:

UR SPELLPINGER is my current deck that is a full-on tempo deck that aims to play a scary, evasive creature and protect it/clear the way for it. Enigma Drake is the exemplary card for this strategy.

Jeskai combo control is a project that aims to play a lot of infinite combos to win the with, backed up with control options. Current combos number 15. Obviously, Splinter Twin is the exemplary card in this archetype.

Temur Grow is currently incomplete, but it is the evolution of the UR Spellpingers into full blown tempo. The unique archetype is called Sorensen - a tempo deck that aims to put a small threat into play and nurture it, grow it, protect it and smash face with it. Managorger Hydra is the exemplary card for this archetype.

A couple of decks from around Tapped out that currently have the most views:

Living Fire Stax Canadian Highlander Budget

TO User CanadianHighlander is regularly publishing the latest tournament decklists. Follow them or browse their decks for information on your favorite archetype.

Resource points

Full points list - self-explanatory really.

Marshall Sutcliff's Intro to Canlander - points list in the article is a bit outdated, but other than that, he does a better job than me at explaining the format.

Top 8 decks from the latest tournaments - the latest tournament results and their top 8 brackets.

Did I mention it is one of the favorite formats of the LoadingReadyRun bunch?

Final point

So, where do you stand on CanLander? Are you excited to try it? Did I leave anything out?

Let me know in the comments down below!

captainamerica says... #1

I love canlander, I'm working on financing my deck mardudes II

December 14, 2018 12:25 p.m.

Anarrandir says... #2

I learned of CanLander from LRR. To anyone seeking to learn about the format can get a lot from their podcast, North 100.

There are a great many different kinds of decks to be played- I currently play UR spellslingers (Mystical Tutor, Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise, total 5 points), Bant Lands (Fastbond, Strip Mine, Enlightened Tutor, Gifts Ungiven, total 6 points) and Mono Green Aggro (Black Lotus, Mox Emerald, total 10 points, both proxied.)

I'm also working on this mess of stuff: Warrior's Oath.

December 16, 2018 10:59 a.m.

Boza says... #3

Great to see interest in a great format! I forgot to actually link LRR's resource, but I think they are doing a good job themselves without my PR :)

December 17, 2018 2:24 a.m.

Winterblast says... #4

As you are asking for opinions, the point list absolutely kills my interest. My background is cEDH and I'm not missing the 8 P9 cards that I'm not allowed to play there. I mean it would be cool to have some of the banned cards available but not as much that I would like to play ONLY 2 or 3 good rocks and no tutors or the other way round...when playing with such a large card pool, the appeal for me is that it's not further restricted but that the whole lot of powerful cards can come together in each deck, mana positive rocks, tutors, outstanding utility.

49% aggro in the meta breakdown you linked also doesn't look like a format I could genuinely enjoy. What's your opinion on the dominance of aggro?

December 17, 2018 8:32 a.m.

Boza says... #5

Winterblast - very valid concerns!

Well, the 49% is not that scary of a metric. Standard is 50% aggro and people mostly agree this is one of the best standards ever. Commander and vintage and modern also have a prevalence for aggro decks. IF you click on Jeskai Midrange, the top aggro deck of the format according to the site, you will it includes a control deck, a combo deck (jeskai academy), several midrange decks and a few tempo decks. The categorization on that site is wonky. I would not dwell on it - I mostly linked the mtgtop8 for the collection of decks it had - there are 190 distinct decks that finihsed well on that site, with a easy to use UI to boot.

The thing is that with everything being legal without restrictions (ie Vintage), there are a lot of similarities and points of convergence of the decks. The only reason you would not play Ancestral Recall and Mox Sapphire in a Vintage deck with moderate amounts of blue mana is that you can't afford it - same with a lot of other staples.

I think this is addressed in the points list section, where I specifically demonstrated 2 different point spreads of a midrange deck and how much of a different feel they have just based on that. If you were to make the same deck in Vintage, you would very likely all the cards in both spreads in the same deck, as they are quite powerful for that archetype.

TLDR: Do not be misled by that 49% and, in the words of Maro, restrictions breed creativity.

December 17, 2018 9:13 a.m. Edited.

Winterblast says... #6

Boza the distaste for aggro gameplay in general is one aspect of my liking for cEDH. There's various archetypes but almost no deck frequently wins with a finite amount of damage. Whether it's stax, storm, fastcombo, midrange/adaptive one just puts dmg sources on the board and wins with them easily. This is why 50% aggro meta feels rather boring imo and if it was only a third or less of turning creatures sideways it would sound more interesting to try out.

As for the quote of Maro, I don't view it that way. Restrictions only make you find creative solutions within a certain area, but the best solutions are also easier to be found the more restrictions you have set. Especially with 100 cards singleton and no sideboard, a deck full of the next best "must plays" won't work that well, because the sheer amount of "too good to not include" cards demands creative and strategical choices. Highlander isn't managed by wotc, is it? That would be an upside imo because their ban policies and their ideas of what makes a format healthy and interesting aren't really compatible with my views on the game. But the general feeling is still "what's cool about a mox when there's only a total of 4 or 5 broken cards in every deck"...

What would be interesting imo is how fast highlander decks can usually win if undisrupted? That's something I couldn't really find out in the text above and by looking at the linked decks

December 18, 2018 10:44 a.m.

Boza says... #7

Winterblast, when you have multiple opponents and they all start at 40 life, aggro should be non-existent in CEDH, as it does not make any sense to win with Goblin Guides or the like. The design of the format eschewing a whole archetype is not a good idea.

Highlander is not managed by wotc, there is committee of players who manage it. They update the points list every couple of months and promote certain playstyles or dissuade others. For example, a single point increase for Black Lotus has dramatically decreased the number of storm decks since it was introduced, when coupled with putting some widely played tutor on the list that previously weren't.

Decks are generally fast and I would describe the speed of the format as akin to modern, ie a "turn 4 format" where as one deck has either outright won, or has a good grip on the game. Mind you, that is not every deck, midrange decks like the Rock or control decks like my Jeskai control prefer the game to go longer and outvalue the opponent.

I think that if you tried to build a deck, you would be

December 19, 2018 3:18 a.m.

Winterblast says... #8

Boza I think the archetypes are defined in more details then, not just aggro/control/combo and the mechanics used in the different archetypes are different. Aggressive decks that set the clock for the format aren't damage based and control-ish decks aren't based on trading counterspells 1:1 for example...combo is more nuanced and plays very differently depending on how they are assembled...that creativity is missing a bit, for example when looking at the Jeskai Kiki combo deck. That's like "ok, sometimes I'll draw into two pieces that fit together" and that basically counts as a combo deck. Just saying, that's not really the level of complexity I enjoy in combo decks and looking at other lists and goldfishing them that seems to be a general thing.

December 19, 2018 4:37 a.m.

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