Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube Update #1

Wow!  What a response!  Thank you to everyone who joined in on the conversation on Reddit last week.  It’s definitely encouraging to see so much interest in the format.  With that, we’ll continued to test with special consideration of some of the recurring themes brought up in the comments.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, please check out the initial post, Introducing Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube, which describes this new cube format (based on Fifteen-Card Highlander Constructed) that we are beyond excited to develop.  It’s been a hell of a lot of fun and the resulting drafts and games have left us thinking that Max’s cube presents an experience that is significantly different than your average game of magic.

And the concept is seemingly simple…

  1. Begin with two 10-card packs
  2. Build fifteen card decks
  3. No losses due to mill

View the updating Fifteen-Card Highlander Cube on

Let’s start by looking at cards that, upon initial inspection, seem “too strong”.

Does This Seem Fair?

Many of the responses we received last week pertained to the power of the mill cards in the format, specifically Breaking // Entering and Chancellor of the Spires.  In recent drafts, we’ve paid particular attention to this concern.  To test out the power of Breaking, in particular, I drafted a deck that looked like this…
UB Braids Attrition

Elixir of Immortality
Guul Draz Assassin
Arcane Denial
Braids, Cabal Minion
Black Sun’s Zenith
Breaking // Entering
Advantageous Proclamation
Secrets of Paradise

To make sure that I’d be casting Breaking // Entering in every game, I reduced my deck size by 4 using Advantageous Proclamation.  I figured that this resource denial paired with the Braids, Cabal Minion and Bitterblossom attrition engine would be effective at totally running my opponent out of cards in their deck AND in play.  It didn’t quite work as planned.

Yes, Advantageous Proclamation reduces your minimum deck size by 5.  Keep in mind, the rules state that your deck maximum AND minimum are 15.  Read Advantageous Proclamation as “your deck can include a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 15 cards”.  This should explain the 11-card deck listed above.

While my suspect deck design may have been the factor that lead to my losses, I was able to test the notion that Breaking // Entering could provide such an advantage that it would effectively win games on its own.  I even packed a Scrabbling Claws in the sideboard to combat recursion strategies when needed.  As I reached the end of the draft, I tended to favor most other plays over Breaking // Entering.

Put it this way…
While the card DOES, in fact, deal with many of your opponent’s potential resources and, at times, removes their entire deck from the game in one shot, the effect of this is not comparable to its potency in typical 40-card or 60-card magic with losses due to mill.  In fact, running a Breaking // Entering in your deck means that you are giving up a much-needed resource of your own.  Beyond that, casting it has little effect on the current state of the game, giving your opponent a window of opportunity to follow that play with a very potent piece of their own technology unopposed.  Based on experience, I would have preferred an opportunity to take care of my opponent’s current resources than including a card like Breaking which may, if drawn too late in the game, be nearly useless.

Similarly, Chancellor of the Spires, is played with a significant risk.  If not drawn in an opening hand, Chancellor a dead card.  You will not be casting a 7-mana creature in this format.  The chance to trigger its ‘opening hand’ ability may be worthwhile for many decks, however, this comes at the cost of a functional mill-to-six.

I was not impressed.

I would argue, however, that an effect like this is needed in the cube because of the real boogymen in the format…

Reusable finishers like Red Sun’s Zenith and Beacon of Creation can provide a much greater value differential than a sorcery-speed mill effect despite what you’ve learned in math class about 8 being greater than 1.  A Beacon of Creation or Red Sun’s Zenith in the opening hand may completely bypass a poorly timed mill spell and turn a dismal 0-card deck situation into the magical christmasland of Insect tokens or fireballs.  Likewise, Elixir of Immortality can counter the mill strategy entirely.  Without the possibility to mill your opponent before these spells are cast or re-cast, an opponent may quickly drown you in value.  There has got to be a counter to these sorts of strategies and mill provides it.

Conspiracy Theories

Another common theme in the responses we received centered around the inclusion of Hidden Agenda/Conspiracy cards in a one-on-one cube format.  We’ve always been big fans of playing with these cards due to the truly ludicrous strategies they can allow for.  Max, who designed the cube list, stated that he began to do so with these cards in mind.  Yes, they can be removed if you prefer it, but the list of non-Conspiracy inclusions will have to be addressed as a result.

Take this decklist for example…

5C Sovereign’s Realm

Beacon of Creation
Haunted Crossroads
Dread Wanderer
Dack Fayden
Codex Shredder
Mana Drain
Ajani Vengeant
Student of Warfare
Stromkirk Noble
Shah of Naar Isle
Mother of Ruins
Sylvan Advocate
Scavenging Ooze
Research // Development
Double Stroke
Sovereign’s Realm

Sideboard (for Research)

Nevinyrral’s Disk
Red Sun’s Zenith

Hint: chose basic forest for every activation of Sovereign’s Realm to make the most out of Beacon of Creation.

Conspiracy cards highlight an interesting point that came up in our testing: each fifteen-card deck seems to take on a very specific identity as far as strategy is concerned (particularly when Conspiracy cards are included).  Each deck archetype became immediately clear due to its ability for a specific set-up or engine to be assembled consistently in each game.  For this reason, deck building is particularly tough and quite skill testing.  With just fifteen cards, traditional MTG variance is turned on its head and each decision made during a game becomes significantly more impactful on the results of the game.

Conspiracy cards ARE quite powerful.  And yes, they DO provide a functional extra card worth of value in a specifically limited deck.  Value them highly and draft them early.  There are plenty to go around.


Currently, no changes are recommended to the cube list.  We recognize the powerful cards in the list but don’t believe that any one inclusion is so egregious that it does not belong.  This is a format with a lot of powerful tools but there are plenty of stopgaps included to keep each one in check.  If the cube were to be made larger, some changes may be needed as the consistency of appearance for each of these cards and their counterpoints would be diluted.

There are a few cards, however, that we’ll continue to keep our eye on.  To find accurate results on this front, we’ll keep those pieces to ourselves.  Please share if there’s anything that you’ve come across in your own testing (and we may have arrived at the same conclusions).


Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few more decklists from our testing.

UW Gideon Stax

Island Sanctuary
Gideon, Ally of Zendiar
True-Name Nemesis
Lingering Souls
Qasali Pridemage
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV
Canal Dredger
Strip Mine
Shelldock Isle

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Lingering Souls provides the much needed fodder to keep your Smokestack around.  Deal with the remaining lands via Strip Mine and tax them out of the game with Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.

4C “Good Stuff”

Hymn of the Wilds
Natural unity
Walking Ballista
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Brimaz, King of Oreskos
Crystal Shard
Web of Inertia
Master of the Wild Hunt
Flametongue Kavu
Thrun, the Last Troll
Mana Confluence
Saltcrusted Steppe

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben plus Hymn of the Wilds was always an oppressive turn-one play with this deck.  Ouch!

Keep Up with the Cube

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Thanks everyone!