Introducing Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube

First off, let’s get this out of the way.  If you are skeptical about the concept of Fifteen-Card Draft due to the potential for broken combo decks or lack of diversity in your matches, I have to admit that I was too.  But then I played it…

My god.  This is ridiculously fun and unique magic.

Before I go into specifics, let me introduce you to a few cards (you’ll likely need to read these guys) that are high-priority picks despite being considered ‘junk’ in just about every other format.

 

Based on the following rule set, you should quickly recognize the explosive value in cards that either recycle used cards, exile graveyards, or draw your opponent through their deck.

  1. Your deck must include exactly 15 cards
  2. You do not lose by ‘decking out’

Pretty simple, right?  While everything else remains the same (life totals, mulligans, etc), these two differences in rules shake things up significantly.

While the concept of 15-card highlander has existed previously, I have to credit the idea of this cube to a friend of mine, Max Hero, who designed that cube that I’ll be sharing later in the article.

Draft/Construction
In Fifteen-Card Draft, players begin with two 10-card packs and draft, as usual, passing left, then right.  Players then construct a 15-card deck from their 20-card pools, typically running between just 3-6 lands.  Based on the fact that an opening hand of 7 cards represents nearly half of a player’s deck, running a very small land count is entirely possible and generally preferred.  To support this, Max’s cube runs mana fixing in the form of two-color Time Spiral storage lands.  This way, players can play cards that cost more than the number of lands included in the deck (at the risk of those storage lands being milled or exiled first).

  

As an example, take a look at the deck I drafted which splashes blue for Academy Ruins and Grand Arbiter Augustin IV by including just one Calciform Pools.  Additionally, Calciform Pools allows me to cast a Black Sun’s Zenith for X=5 or more without needing to run additional lands.  I would have liked to include even fewer than 6 lands in my deck but the double W and double B in the casting cost of many of my cards required me to run at least two sources of each type.

Grand Arbiter and other tax effects are great ways to punish players who are running exactly the number of lands needed to cast their largest spells.  This is a common strategy given that you’ll likely draw your entire deck during a game of Fifteen-Card Draft.  While this risk may be worth taking, cards like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Grand Arbiter Austin IV, and Vryn Wingmare may complicate things.  Also, if one of your lands gets milled into your graveyard, another relevant strategy to eliminate opposing resources (but remember, you can’t lose from mill), you may not be able to cast some of the more costly spells in your deck.

While mill cards can’t kill your opponent, they can…quash any hope of them winning.  Take Breaking // Entering for example.  While you’re not likely to net enough mana to cast both halves, the difference between Breaking and Glimpse the Unthinkable are insignificant based on the fact that each player’s deck will contain just 8 cards after he or she draws an opening hand of 7.  Putting the rest of a player’s deck into their graveyard brings us to a concept we’ve infrequently experienced in magic.  You’ve heard of “Top Deck Mode”.  Welcome to “No Deck Mode”…

Recycle
Having your deck completely milled out of existence is obviously, not a great situation.  It can, however, be advantageous when you have cards like Academy Ruins or the aforementioned Canal Dredger to provide repeatable recursion that, in this format, functions as card advantage.

Seasons Past is an example of a card that is a particularly potent piece of recursion as it also includes the “…then put Seasons Past on the bottom of your library clause” so you can do it all over again.

Then there’s Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.  While you likely won’t be casting this giant Eldrazi without 15 turns of charging up a Fungal Reaches, its ability to prevent opposing mill strategies AND recharge the cards you’ve already played is more than worthwhile.

Additionally, consider this cycle of cards that recharge themselves upon resolution.

Black Sun’s Zenith is my favorite option as it provides a repeatable source of mass removal for a control deck.  Red Sun’s Zenith is obviously great as as repeatable spot removal or as a finisher.  Remember that these spells will have to resolve to be recycled.  Pesky counterspells can quickly stop this engine.

Blue Sun’s Zenith and White Sun’s Zenith might be too costly to actually be effective and Green Sun’s Zenith doesn’t do a whole lot to find a creature that you’ll soon be drawing anyways.

Exile
As is evident by the power of graveyard recursion, cards that exile from an opposing graveyard are extremely valuable.  I wouldn’t think twice to first-pick a Bojuka Bog and Scrabbling Claws provides an easily castable and efficient way to forever remove cards already used by an opponent before they can be recycled into his or her deck.

Conspiracy
If you’re counting the cards in my deck and thinking, “you’re running an extra card genius”.  You’re right.  Please note, however, that I’ve included Backup Plan, a conspiracy card allowing me to draw two opening hands and chose one.  I thought it pretty comical that whenever I did this, there would only be a single card in my deck that I couldn’t see.  By process of elimination, I could usually figure out what that was too!

Besides being a lot of fun, Conspiracy cards allow players to build decks with completely different concepts; thus allowing for great additional value to a deck that is so small in size.

 

Take Emissary’s Ploy for example.  Choosing 1 allows you to draft all of the most powerful aggressive creatures (Goblin Guide, Stromkirk Noble, Kytheon, Hero of Akros) and run just 1-2 lands in your deck.  Because you’re likely to draw and play every card in the deck, taking a mulligan until you find your land is not nearly as detrimental as it would be in 40 or 60-card formats.

Max was able to do this during our draft and utilized Secrets of Paradise naming Goblin Guide to power out additional attackers on the first turn.


Max Hero’s Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube “Fifteen is the New Forty” V1.0
For the purpose of balancing out color representation, non-basic lands including a colored activation cost are counted as a card of that color.

Click to view the Fifteen Card Highlander Cube on Cube Tutor
White: (20)
Path to Exile
Student of Warfare
Mana Tithe
Mother of Runes
Glory-Bound Initiate
Balance
Island Sanctuary
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Lingering Souls
Stonecloaker
Council’s Judgment
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Aura of Silence
Restoration Angel
Armageddon
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Wrath of God
Chronosavant
Pristine Angel
Approach of the Second Sun

Blue: (20)
Shelldock Isle
Academy Ruins
Ancestral Recall
Dream Twist
Arcane Denial
Memory’s Journey
Snapcaster Mage
Time Walk
Mana Drain
Crystal Shard
Laboratory Maniac
Web of Inertia
Wistful Thinking
True-Name Nemesis
Glen Elendra Archmage
Blessed Reincarnation
Kefnet’s Last Word
Meloku the Clouded Mirror
Perplexing Chimera
Isleback Spawn

Black: (20)
Volrath’s Stronghold
Thoughtseize
Dread Wanderer
Guul Draz Assassin
Bitterblossom
Nezumi Graverobber
Pack Rat
Haunted Crossroads
Toxic Deluge
Ophiomancer
Dismember
Braids, Cabal Minion
Inverter of Truth
Slaughter
Shriekmaw
Beacon of Unrest
Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Grave Titan
Mind Twist
Black Sun’s Zenith

Red: (20)
Goblin Guide
Stromkirk Noble
Lightning Bolt
Young Pyromancer
Torch Fiend
Devastating Dreams
Hanweir Garrison
Sulfur Elemental
Words of War
Collective Defiance
Barbed Shocker
Flametongue Kavu
Avalanche Riders
Shah of Naar Isle
Ingot Chewer
Siege-Gang Commander
Arc Blade
Greater Gargadon
Red Sun’s Zenith
Rolling Earthquake

Green: (20)
Natural Unity
Noble Hierarch
Ulvenwald Tracker
Serene Remembrance
Sylvan Advocate
Scavenging Ooze
Albino Troll
Gaea’s Blessing
Bow of Nylea
Beast Within
Reclamation Sage
Spawnwrithe
Song of the Dryads
Beacon of Creation
Briarhorn
Garruk Wildspeaker
Master of the Wild Hunt
Thrun, the Last Troll
Genesis
Seasons Past

Colorless: (30)
Advantageous Proclamation
Backup Plan
Double Stroke
Emissary’s Ploy
Maze of Ith
Black Lotus
Noxious Revival
Codex Shredder
Elixir of Immortality
Hex Parasite
Scrabbling Claws
Sol Ring
Grim Monolith
Umezawa’s Jitte
Porcelain Legionnaire
Eternal Scourge
Grafted Wargear
Ensnaring Bridge
Ring of Gix
Canal Dredger
Cogwork Librarian
Darksteel Reactor
Nevinyrral’s Disk
Smokestack
Batterskull
Wurmcoil Engine
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
Hangarback Walker
Walking Ballista
Engineered Explosives

Multicolored: (10)
Grand Arbiter Augustin
Breaking // Entering
Sire of Insanity
Blitz Hellion
Qasali Pridemage
Vindicate
Pernicious Deed
Trygon Predator
Dack Fayden
Ajani Vengeant

Mana: (15)
Hymn of the Wilds
Secrets of Paradise
Sovereign’s Realm
Unexpected Potential
Calciform Pools
Dreadship Reef
Molten Slagheap
Fungal Reaches
Saltcrusted Steppe
Bojuka Bog
Karakas
Mana Confluence
Mutavault
Rishadan Port
Strip Mine

Wildcards: (5)
Leyline of Sanctity
Chancellor of the Spires
Leyline of the Void
Research // Development
Death Wish

Follow this link to our post Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube: Update #1

Corey Murphy is one of two hosts of the Card Knock Life Podcast. He started playing magic in 1999, lives in Wisconsin, can touch his tongue to his nose, plays the trombone, and focuses his MTG content efforts on Modern. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You’re here for the magic content right? Ok, I’ll shut up now…

5 thoughts on “Introducing Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube

  1. Hey!

    Just read through this and thought it was a really sweet concept.

    I have a few friends and we are looking to try it out. I may like to do an article on it after we draft a round.

    I was curious if you came up with the idea or if there was other sources?
    and had some questions about the card choices.

    Hope to hear from ya,
    Thanks,
    Dave

  2. Just finished planning my 15 card cube after reading your article. It’s my first cube, not highlander, and not high powered, but I’m super excited to start putting it together. I was surprised to learn the only storage lands that aren’t terrible are the time spiral ones. I built the cube around enemy pairs so I hope the only real fixing in the format will imcentivize some greedy 3 color builds.

  3. This is basically amazing, I’m going to build this as a starting point. How few players can you draft this with, and how many basic lands do you typically pack with the cube?

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