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.
- Your deck must include exactly 15 cards
- 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.
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”…
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.
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.
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 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.