There Can Only Be Fun: Five-Color Highlander in Standard

Posted in Building on a Budget on October 30, 2006

By Ben Bleiweiss

Building on a Budget is dedicated to making decks that cost 30 tickets or less on Magic Online. Weekly deck testing is done using Magic Online.

This week's article is Standard legal. All cards in this week's deck come from Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension, and Coldsnap.

Time Spiral became available online on October 30th. Time Spiral was not available at the time this article was written.

It's Halloween week here at Building on a Budget, and you know what that means!

October 31st, 2005: JMS, “Selesnya United: Tokens on my Table
October 29th, 2004: Nate Heiss, “The 10 Best Budget Cards of all Time
October 27th, 2003: Nate Heiss, “Budget Control

That's right – absolutely nothing! For better or for worse, neither of my predecessors really liked to give out any sort of treats for Halloween. What a curmudgeonly pair! The thought of depriving the neighborhood youts of boxes of raisins and penny-jars fills me with the very essence of Juffo-Wup (10 points if you get this reference).

I've been itching to get my hands on Time Spiral, but it hasn't been made available online yet. This will likely be the same for next year as well, given the release dates of sets versus the release date of Halloween. To spice things up, we're going to start a new tradition:

Trick or Treat: A BoaB Halloween

Each year for Halloween, I'm going to drop everything else going on in this column and build a deck that is completely out there. This Halloween's deck? Five-Color Highlander Standard.

Definitions time!

Five-Color: A deck which contains all five colors – black, blue, green, red and white.
Highlander: Aside from basic lands, there can only be one of any given card in the deck.
Standard: Online, Kamigawa Block, Ravnica Block, 9th Edition and Coldsnap are currently Standard legal. For reasons that you'll see in a moment, I only used Ravnica, Guildpact, Dissension and Coldsnap for this deck. But you knew that already – you read the nifty new boilerplate at the top of this article!

As many of you know, I wrote a very different column on before I wrote Building on a Budget. That column was Uncommon Knowledge, and it dealt with a study of Magic's history. One article in particular points towards my love of form: the “Sets of Five” piece. In that article, I dissected all of the cycles in Magic's history (up until the point of Onslaught – remember, that article was written in 2002). I took that article as an inspiration to build this week's deck.


Highlander Outline – Don't Play This Version

You'll notice there are 82 cards in this version of the deck. These are the cards I initially considered running in this Highlander deck. They include the following:

I also included a bunch of creatures and spells that have a higher power level or a comes-into-play effect – cards like Lightning Helix, Electrolyze, Keening Banshee, Civic Wayfinder, and such.

I needed to cut out cards, and I decided to stick as closely as possible to the cycles theme. However, there were too many slots dedicated to cross-over mana spells – twenty is a lot of spots in any deck! In the end, I cut seven cards from that cycle (Crypt Champion, Flash Conscription, Revenant Patriarch, Vigor Mortis, Induce Paranoia, Dryad's Caress, and Gruul Scrapper). I also cut several comes-into-play creatures (Carven Caryatid, Indrik Stomphowler, Keening Banshee, Stalking Yeti, Vedalken Dismisser), several good creatures (Blizzard Specter, Gelectrode, Trygon Predator), some removal (Condemn, Faith's Fetters, Last Gasp), and a handful of utility spells (Compulsive Research, Farseek, Into the North, Recollect). This left me with the following sixty-card Highlander Standard deck, titled “There Can Only Be Fun!”


Game 1: Odin51085 (R/G Aurochs)

I get turn-three Spectral Searchlight and follow it with turn 4 Selesnya Guildmage. He drops Earthen Goo on turn three, and I Ribbons of Night it on turn five to get myself back up to nineteen life. He plays Sheltering Ancient, swings in for five the next turn, and then drops Stalking Yeti the turn after. I respond by playing Plaxmanta, countering his effect. He drops Aurochs Herd, lets his Sheltering Ancient die before it can make all my guys larger than his, and then swings. I double block with my 3/3 Guildmage and 2/2 Plaxmanta, and he casts Resize on his Aurochs. I neuter that with Boros Fury-Shield.

I clear the board the next turn with Savage Twister for four and then drop Court Hussar and Patagia Viper on turn eight to take momentum. He starts dropping more Aurochs, but I get Supply // Demand for Putrefy, Izzet Chronarch the Putrefy, and then cast Hit // Run (Run!) to swing in with my Court Hussar, Viper, two tokens, and Chronarch at +4/+0 each for the win.

Record: 1-0

Game 2: Ravarshi (B/W Orzhov)

This game, I get Spectral Searchlight again (MVP!), use Steamcore Weird on Mourning Thrull, and cast Shrieking Grotesque to knock a land out of his hand. The Grotesque blocks a Blind Hunter, and I drop both Azorius Guildmage and Rakdos Guildmage to lock down his board. He drops Rod of Ruin and Souls of the Faultless, but I use Ogre Savant to remove his defender, tap it down the next turn with my Azorius Guildmage, and then cast Hit // Run (Run!) for the win with my Weird, two Guildmages and Savant.

Record: 2-0


Form of the Dragon
Game 3: Ki_com (Form of the Dragon) He Remands my Court Hussar and then casts Compulsive Research. I Hussar for a land, and he casts Tidings. I cast Izzet Guildmage and Azorius Herald, which prompts a Wrath of God. I try to get an offense going again with Dimir Guildmage and Cloudstone Curio, but he drops Form of the Dragon and kills my Guildmage. I play the waiting game, and eventually he taps out to cast Keiga and Tidings in the same turn. I Wrecking Ball Keiga. He aims Form of the Dragon at my head, and I draw into Seed Spark. He hits me again with Form, and I try to Seed Spark his enchantment at the end of his turn. He Remands my instant, but I cast it main-phase on his turn, prompting him to Repeal his own seven-drop finisher.

He recasts Form of the Dragon the following turn and pairs it with a Compulsive Research. I get to six mana, drop Steamcore Weird, and cast Lightning Helix. Ki_com is out of countermagic, and I win the game…at 4 life. Thank you, Azorius Herald!

Record: 3-0

Game 4: mtbulldog58 (R/W Boros)

He plays Glorious Anthem, then Flame-Kin Zealot. I Mortify his Anthem, drop Cloudstone Curio, and play Patagia Viper. I stack the triggers so that my tokens come into play and return the Viper for a second go-around. The next time around, he kills the Viper in response to the Curio trigger. He then starts playing 2/2s.

I get down Selesnya Guildmage and play Mark of Eviction on a knight. He plays Faith's Fetters on his Marked guy, allowing him to gain four life for free. I cast Steamcore Weird to kill another of his 2/2 creatures and then drop Rakdos Guildmage to kill his team. He tries to mount a defense/offense with Boros Recruit and Thundersong Trumpeter, but I give all my guys +1/+1 with Selesnya Guildmage and then play Rolling Spoil to take out his team. As a last-ditch effort, mtbulldog58 casts Ghostly Prison, but I have ten mana on the board, and I just swarm him with 1/1 and 2/2 creatures.

Record: 4-0

Game 5: Smackeh (U/G Simic)

I get stuck at two lands, and don't draw a third land until it's much too late. I try to mount a comeback, but Smackeh already has the Simic Sky Force in play, and beats me upside the head. On a scale of Trick or Treat, he definitely got treat!

Record: 4-1

Game 6: AnduRRias (B/W Orzhov)

He gets Plagued Rusalka, then Castigates me twice (for Supply // Demand and Hit // Run). I drop Court Hussar, Izzet Guildmage, and Plaxmanta (in response to Pillory of the Sleepless). He drops Souls of the Faultless, which eats Ribbons of the Night. I Izzet Chronarch the Ribbons, and cast Hit // Run (Run!) for the win.

Record: 5-1

Suprisingly, I've never cast the Hit part of Hit // Run, even though it's supposedly the better half of the card. Hmm….

Anyhow, I've found that I'm getting slightly mana-shied so far, plus I have slow starts due to all the bounce lands. Spectral Searchlight has been MVP so far, so I decide to add in a handful of signets. To make room for them, I take out three of the Guildmages which are least useful in my deck: Simic Guildmage (very few +1/+1 counters, no auras), Orzhov Guildmage (slow) and Izzet Guildmage (Lightning Helix, Rise // Fall and Trial // Error are the only spells in my deck it can copy) get the boot. I bring in Rakdos Signet, Azorius Signet and Gruul Signet, as these cover the colors of spells I need the most.

Out: Simic Guildmage, Orzhov Guildmage, Izzet Guildmage
In: Rakdos Signet, Azorius Signet, Gruul Signet


Game 7: Lobo20 (W/G/B Nantuko Husk)

Turn one: Island, Terrarion. Turn two: Forest, Rakdos Guildmage. Turn three: Azorius Herald. I don't get aggressive enough with my Azorius Herald and Rakdos Guildmage, and I lose the turn before I kill him. He had Juniper Order Ranger, double Nantuko Husk, Twilight Drover, and Carven Caryatid. I should have kept killing his guys in response to their Juniper Order Ranger trigger, but I kept back for too long.

Record: 5-2

Game 8: Pure Grit (U/G Simic)

I get Azorius Guildmage, a ton of signets, and Gruul Guildmage, and I hit eight mana before he can get his blue mana up. By the time he gets an Island, I'm swinging with two guys who can tap down his defense and then become 8/8.

Record: 6-2


Court Hussar
Game 9: HELIOS CREED (U/G Simic)

I get Court Hussar into Hit // Run, Mark of Eviction and Azorius Guildmage. I keep the Mark of Eviction, using it to bounce my Court Hussar. He drops Plaxcaster Frogling and Assault Zeppelid. I try to block, but he casts double Giant Growth to wipe out most of my team. I drop Patagia Viper to try to stabilize and then draw into twin removal spells (Rakdos Guildmage and Mortify). He accidentally runs his Plaxcaster Frogling into a goblin token, courtesy of Rakdos Guildmage. (This happens more than once over the course of this article – people seem to forget the Rakdos Guildmage has an ability other than giving a creature -2/-2!) After I clear out his board, he concedes.

Record: 7-2

Game 10: tfiggink314 (Blue Snow Aggro)

He gets turn-one Martyr of Frost and turn-two Ninja of the Deep Hours. Thankfully, I'm on the play and have Mortify to kill his Ninja. He repeats this sequence on turn four, and this time he has Mana Leak for my Putrefy. I drop Azorius Guildmage and keep his Ninja tapped down. He casts Rimewind Taskmage, and I drop Selesnya Guildmage. We sit there at an impasse for a while, until he drops Phyrexian Ironfoot. This leaves him with one mana open, and I Electrolyze his Taskmage at end of turn and then Tin Street Hooligan his artifact creature. This gives me total and absolute control of the board, which the Blue Snow Aggro deck cannot deal with (I built the deck – I know what it loses against, i.e., anything that hits the board and stays there). Without an out, tfiggink314 concedes.

Record: 8-2

As a note, Blue Snow Aggro really needs a bounce effect of some sort, so it's not helpless against the board. I've come to realize this in retrospect, and I would definitely add in something like four Wipe Away post-Time Spiral to the deck.

Game 11: heyhowyoudoin123 (R/G/B Damage-Dealing)

He gets Akki Lavarunner and then Coalhauler Swine. I kill and bounce everything, get in there with Guildmages and Azorius Herald, and don't face much other resistance.

Record: 9-2

I'm still having a little trouble with mana, but in this case it's getting the right colors at the right time. Green searchers can help this, so I add in a couple to smooth out the mana base. In addition, I add in Stalking Yeti – now that I can search out Snow-Covered lands easily, he's too good to turn down. I take out three of the cross-mana cards that I've used the least – Squealing Devil (always stuck in hand), Tin Street Hooligan (the Blue Snow Aggro deck is the only deck I've faced with artifacts) and Boros Fury-Shield (sort of clunky).


Out: Squealing Devil, Tin Street Hooligan, Boros Fury-Shield
In: Stalking Yeti, Farseek, Into the North

Game 12: Seraz (4-Color Snow Reanimator)

He gets lots of fatties in his graveyard but can't draw reanimation. I get Patagia Viper, Civic Wayfinder and Boros Guildmage, and he drops Stinkweed Imp. I bide my time, with a hand of Supply // Demand, Trial // Error, Putrefy, and Electrolyze. When he casts Sisters of Stone Death, I kill it with Putrefy, Electrolyze his Stinkweed Imp, and swarm him. He tries to get a last minute Rimefeather Owl on the board (12/12 to boot!), but I'm at 20 life, he's at 2, and he can't deal with all my creatures.

Record: 10-2

Game 13: Flipsix (U/R Izzet)

He drops Izzet Guildmage, and I immediately Electrolyze it. He drops Wee Dragonauts two turns in a row, and I massacre them with Putrefy and Lightning Helix. I've found that, against this style of Izzet deck, it's best to kill creatures the second they hit the board. That way, the Izzet mage won't get double use out of his spells (as a creature pumper/duplication outlet/Gelectrode untapper), and won't be able to mount an offense. This is exactly the case, and he begins to throw burn at my head. I show him Selesnya Guildmage, and suddenly his Shocks and Volcanic Hammers are aimed at my creatures instead.


Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
I get an offense going, finally, by casting Seed Spark on my own Searchlight and then dropping Patagia Viper. He plays Niv-Mizzet, and I bounce it with Ogre Savant. In response, he tries to Electrolyze most of my team away, but I counter it with Trial // Error. He redrops Niv-Mizzet, and I kill it with Ribbons of Night. That pretty much ends the game, as he can't deal with all of my token creatures.

Record: 11-2

Game 14: Mixeman (U/G/W Untargetable)

He drops turn-four Privileged Position, turn-seven Silhana Ledgewalker. I drop Selesnya and Boros Guildmages turn four and Patagia Viper on turn seven, and he concedes.

Record: 12-2

Game 15: 53N531 (U/B Ninjas)

He gets early beats left and right, thanks to Dimir Infiltrator, Ronin Warclub, and Ornithopter. I wreck him with a well-timed Seed Spark on his Ornithopter and manage to stabilize the board. He drops Higure, the Still Wind, and I attack him down to 6. He uses Higure to get Ninja of the Deep Hours and taps out to play that Ninja. I end up attacking him down to 1 and killing him with Spectral Searchlight. He (and I) both realize immediately that if he had gotten Mistblade Shinobi instead, he would have been able to use Higure as a mana sink, and ended the game at 1 life – so this game could have been a loss, but I'll take it as a win. ;)

Record: 13-2

This deck outperformed expectations in every way imaginable. I didn't expect to go 13-2 with a highlander utility deck, especially one that was more themed than constructed at first, and especially not when every game I played was against a regular Standard legal deck. That's right – trick or treat! This deck held its own against non-highlander decks and was a blast to play. Every game played out differently, and I always had a ton of options during gameplay. There Can Only Be Fun gets the A+ recommendation seal of Building on a Budget approval.

Next Week: John Matthew Upton, circa States 2003. After that: Time Spiral!

Highlander utility deck – yay or nay?
Yay! 3530 62.5%
Neigh! I'm a horse! 1426 25.3%
Nay! 688 12.2%
Total 5644 100.0%

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