Once upon a time in Australia, there was an idea…
I’m here to tell you about a Magic format I love, and that I’ve been playing for years. It’s fun, the games are exciting, and the opportunities to explore it are close to endless.
The format I’m talking about is 7-point Highlander, also known as Australian Highlander. You might have heard about it before, either here on CFB—a member of our community, Isaac, wrote about it here—or from some members of our community elsewhere around the internet. We like to proselytize.
The quick version is that 7-point Highlander is an Eternal, singleton, 60+15 1v1 card format with a points list. But I’ll tell you more about the format—and why you’ll love it if you try it—in a way that’s a bit more on theme.
So here’s seven points about why 7-point Highlander is worth a shot.
7. All the Cards, But Not All at Once
In most Magic formats, cards are either legal or they’re not, with no grey area.
Vintage is the classic exception to this rule—all the cards are legal, but the most powerful cards are playing their own secret singleton format inside your regular format, and are restricted to one of each in your deck.
In other formats—be it Legacy, Commander, or Standard—the people in charge solve this problem by just removing chunks of the format. This can be good for balance, unless the card you want to play is Balance, which is banned in most formats.
7-point Highlander solves this with its eponymous points list. You can play basically any card you want, but you can’t play them all at once. Want to play storm? Sure, but Black Lotus and Yawgmoth’s Will are 4 and 3 points respectively, so good luck finding any decent tutors to go with them. Like control decks? You might have to decide between that ever juicy Ancestral Recall at 4 points, or Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time at 2 points each.
You can find the current points list here.
6. Existing Skills, New Format
60 cards main deck. 15 cards sideboard. No special zones or other rules quirks once the game has started.
One of the great things about modern Magic is that a lot of the heavy lifting has been done for you. You can find articles by great mathematical minds—like Frank Karsten—who have worked out the numbers on how many lands, what colors, for what kind of mana base you should play. They’ve worked out what the optimal curve for your deck is, how much reach you need, etc.
And that all transfers to 7-point Highlander as well. Sure, you’ve occasionally got to stretch on just how good a blue-black dual Temple of Deceit is going to be to make the numbers work, but the framework is all there in a way that is easier to apply than it is to formats that aren’t 60 cards, don’t have sideboards, or both.
All the deck building skills you’ve learned or read about still apply, and you can (mostly) play your favorite decks…
…or at least something similar. It’s not universal—the more linear a deck, the harder the singleton nature of the format hits it: There just aren’t enough cards with (for example) dredge to really make that deck work (although it is close!).
But mostly, if there’s a deck you love from an Eternal format, or even sometimes from Standard, you can port it directly across and have fun exploring.
5. One Collection, Many Decks
Old Magic cards aren’t cheap. And I’d be lying to you if I tried to claim Highlander was in any way a budget format—any format where Moxen or original dual lands are legal can’t claim that title.
But existing card collections go a lot further. Lots of newer cards and cards from Commander products are very good in 7-point Highlander, which gives anyone a starting point, from Commander players through to Modern grinders.
That one person at your local with a half-decent Modern or Legacy collection can put together a whole small event worth of decks! You’re restricted to one of each card, so a set of fetches covers the needs of at least four people. The same is true of your Tarmogoyfs, your Dark Depths, or your Force of Wills, if you have them.
4. The Most Expensive Toys are Not Always the Best
As I mentioned above, all the old cards are legal, but since there is a points list, not everything is legal at once.
Are Moxen good in the format? I mean, sure, of course they are, but at 3 points each, sometimes they’re not the best choice for the deck you want to play. Maybe you’d rather play Green Sun’s Zenith, Birthing Pod, and Natural Order with those 3 points instead.
The current king-of-the-hill in our national metagame, Kess Pile (a Grixis control deck featuring Kess, Dissident Mage) has an expensive mana base (featuring three original duals), but the next most expensive cards are quite a bit cheaper. There are less than half a dozen cards in the price range of Force of Will and Mana Drain, and after that the drop off in price is dramatic, with many of your cards being staple commons and powerful removal and counters that you already own for Modern.
And that’s just talking about the “best” control deck in the format… there are dozens of top tier and established decks to sleeve up, many of which are cheaper still. You can find some examples here.
3. Old Cards, New Opportunities
These are all cards which are sweet as heck, but either never saw any real play in the formats they were legal in, or rotated out into older formats and disappeared without a trace. Highlander is a format in which a lot of those cards get another opportunity to shine.
Realistically, if you’re building a Zoo deck in Modern, and you’ve come to terms with the fact that you might have misread the metagame and are making a horrible mistake, your choices of 1-drops are pretty easy. You want to play twelve 1-drops? You probably want four Goblin Guide, four Wild Nacatl, and maybe four Kird Apes. The hardest decision is picking which art you’d like (although if it’s not the Arabian Nights Kird Ape art I question your life choices).
And those cards are all fun, but it means some of the quirkier and more delightful cards from Magic’s past fall by the wayside.
Not in Highlander, where if you still want to play those twelve 1-drop beaters you’ve got a number of really interesting—and skill-intensive—choices to make. Is Figure of Destiny, with its huge upsides but extra costs, better or worse than Kytheon? Is having the 9th burn spell I want to play really worth playing Volcanic Hammer, or should I just play a different card?
2. It’s a Brewer’s Format
We’ve been playing Highlander in Canberra, and across Australia, for 21 years. There are fledgling communities in NZ, Singapore, Argentina, Belgium, and the U.S. There are some very good deck builders in those communities trying to find the best decks, and the best builds of those decks… but we have realistically barely scratched the surface. Sure, we’ve found some cool fun decks to play, and they seem pretty good, but there are bound to be countless decks, or iterations of existing decks, that we haven’t even considered.
1. It’s Absurdly Fun to Play
7-point Highlander is an incredible, absurd blast to play. Every game is unique in a way a 4-of format can never quite hope to be, but at the same time the decks all feel very coherent and well crafted. It’s a format where you can build unabashedly spiky decks and let your competitive soul out, but still play some really niche cards you love that don’t fit anywhere else.
Thanks for reading, and thanks to CFB for the opportunity to talk Highlander with you all. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear more—I certainly have more to say!