I’m going to jump right out of the gate and say it: 7-Point Highlander is the best constructed format that Magic has to offer. The points system and the fantastic job that The Committee does of maintaining it mean that everyone has a chance to play all of their favourite powerful cards in an environment that is very well balanced and varied. There is high-level competitive play a-plenty, the card pool is vast for brewing, and the power level is tastefully curated enough that you can more or less play any strategy you want without feeling like a fool.
The format does have one slowly mounting problem though; you guessed it, the ever-bloating prices of Reserved List cards. For players looking to join in the fun coming from other popular Magic formats, this can feel like a massive hurdle, or even a reason to dismiss the format entirely. However in this article, I will show new and established players alike how you can approach deck-building around this restriction whilst still creating a highly tuned and competitive list.
The Reserved List and Us
It would be silly to suggest that 7PH doesn’t require some investment, that Magic as a whole isn’t an expensive game, or that cost is not an issue for some players. But there is a chasm of difference that lies between the prices of staples like a fetch land and a Revised dual land. Luckily, in almost all circumstances, the points list goes a long way to prevent players from needing to fork out for the upper echelon of absurdities like the Moxen or Black Lotus to be competitive. Unlike Vintage, not sleeving-up Mox Sapphire doesn’t make your deck strictly worse, because choosing to play a Mox costs you 3 Points in Highlander. The strength of a Highlander deck can be spread out over several inexpensive cards (pointed or otherwise) and still be just as, if not more capable of topping the tables at a tournament.
Unfortunately, the pointing safety net doesn’t extend to one of the most important set of staples in the format: the dual lands. It’s impossible to point the ABUR duals (“Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, or Revised dual lands”) without drastically changing the identity of 7PH and why we all enjoy to play it in the first place.
There has been an increasing amount of discussion in the community of 7PH players about how best to address this issue. It’s important to do so because we want the format to survive well into the future, but for this to be possible, a relatively stable intake of new players is necessary. Every proposed solution – from proxies, to borrowing cards, to just sucking it up and playing with a worse land base – has some merit, but they don’t all work for everyone.
While the discussion rages on, what if you are a competitive minded player that wants to join 7 Point Highlander at this time, where a universal solution has not yet been instigated? What if you aren’t interested in a collection of ‘Office Works‘ edition printings and want to play sanctioned events with cards that you own? What if playing with a suboptimal deck is simply not enjoyable for you?
It’s easy to feel like the format is out of reach when eternal formats generally have a reputation for needing lots of ABUR dual lands, say for example 3 Volcanic Island and 3 Underground sea to play a Delver deck in Legacy. Fortunately, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case here.
A Spike-minded solution to building without breaking the bank
One immediate, substantial workaround that can significantly soften the blow for someone entering 7PH without a large collection of vintage cards is playing two-colour decks, and it’s important to understand why that doesn’t mean playing bad decks. Many colour pairs offer incredibly powerful suites of cards that are highly competitive in Highlander.
To avoid there being an elephant in the room, yes, this does still mean getting your hands on one ABUR dual land to have the optimal mana base. It’s an investment, but one that is well and truly worth it to be able to tango with the top decks in the best constructed format Magic has to offer. While it’s not a complete solution to the entire Reserved List problem, and can’t work for everyone, it sure as hell does make life significantly easier (including the ease of logistics around borrowing a single card for a non-proxy tournament), and may be the difference between getting you over the line to join in the fun that is 7 Point Highlander.
Below is a deck list that demonstrates some of the potential power of a two-colour deck:
With the exception of the Volcanic Island, there are no other Reserved List cards, and I’d go so far as to wager that many of these cards would already be in an enfranchised Modern-through-Legacy tempo player’s collection. Every single card in the list is great. The power level is very high and there is a decent amount of synergy littered in. Obviously, as with any list ever, you could tweak until the cows come home based off your preferences (that’s the main allure of 7PH) but the framework is there to highlight the possibilities.
It is important to stress that the above list is also by no means the only option available. Unlike the other 60-card flagship constructed formats, 7PH has a significant amount of underexplored space, and this continues to open up as more new cards are printed and as the points list evolves. Picking your favourite ABUR dual land and delving into the possibilities of that colour pair is a great way to start, and that single dual land will serve you well even if you never buy another expensive magic card again.
So, if two-colour decks aren’t so terrible, why isn’t everyone playing them?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted and it’s important to note that all this is not to say that it’s better to run a two-colour deck, just that it doesn’t necessarily have to be a competitive handicap.
Most notably, it comes down to the core spirit of the format. 7PH is where people can get a great deal of enjoyment playing with the cards in their collection. A significant amount of people in the community are heavily enfranchised and/or lucky enough to have purchased their ABUR dual lands before the recent price lurches. The bottom line is that we all simply want to play with our favourite cards, so why shouldn’t someone do just that? If you owned all 10 Dual Lands and had the choice between playing two equally competitive decks – a two-colour deck vs. a deck that used more than one of your pretty pieces of cardboard – which would you choose? While having three or more colours doesn’t always mean that the deck will be better, it certainly doesn’t make things worse (barring Blood Moon), so “smoke if you gottem.”
The other significant factor is that the necessity to explore the space hasn’t been strong, prior to the massive price increases for ABUR dual lands. The monetary cost to playing more colours has historically been less restrictive, meaning that there has never been much incentive to build in just two, bar personal preference.
With the boom in power creep seen over 2019 and 2020 we’re only just beginning to reach a point where we have such a glut in playable and indeed busted 7PH level cards that we now have an abundance of A+ choices to put in our decks, even when taking into account the restricted card pool of two colours. Weaknesses in the colour pie are narrowing, giving more colours a wider array of tools that translate well in the format. For example, red has historically had great difficulty dealing with large creatures and planeswalkers, but the printing of Magmatic Sinkhole and Unholy Heat have helped to close this gap.
Where do I go from here?
For competitive-minded players who are interested in joining the format, there are several suggestions that may help to get off on the right foot.
Tip #1: Strength over Synergy
Individual raw strength of cards in a vacuum is a common factor in good 7PH decks. You can certainly build amazing synergy strategies, but these types of decks tend to require specific cards to function, which can sometimes be at odds with the two-colour restriction. High power and low curve is a great rule of thumb if you are unsure where to begin.
Tip #2: Be Proactive
Be proactive and play cards that support your overall game-plan. This is an unforgiving format in the sense that you often can’t sit on your hands and ‘durdle’ around until you’ve got six lands out. A tried and tested method of making sure your opponent doesn’t beat you on turn five is to beat them on turn four.
Tip #3: Play Blue
“Play blue lol.” But seriously, there’s good reason to do this aside from “blue is best” memes when approaching the format with an upper bound on what you can spend. That’s because blue has the most pointed cards. This is really helpful because it gives you a much wider selection of busted stuff to choose from to put in your deck without having to resort to using crazy expensive Reserved List cards to increase deck power, which you will more likely need to do if you want an optimal, non-blue two-colour deck. There is a reason why Mono-Red is the go-to competitive budget option in other formats, but is actually expensive in Highlander!
Tip #4: Use lands that let you ‘curve out’
It’s undoubtedly more difficult to build a two-colour mana base in this format, regardless of the rest of the powerful cards you have access to. There are only so many quality dual-colour lands and only having access to 1/10th of them certainly requires some effort to optimise. But that doesn’t at all mean that it’s impossible, and it’s not a reason to believe that it must make the deck weak. You would do well to spend time tweaking your choice of lands to “curve out” well.
Tip #5: Sideboard for your local metagame
Build your sideboard with a hard focus on your local meta. 7PH is a relatively small format compared to say Modern or Legacy and people tend to only own/play their one deck. If extra percentage points for winning sounds attractive to you, this is a way to squeeze them out. For example, if you know that no one in your area plays artifact decks, then don’t waste space in your sideboard with artifact hate cards.
Tip #6: Brew and tweak your own list
There is a strong sense of encouragement in the community for people to build their own deck. Obviously, you should copy a list if brewing isn’t fun for you, but one of the most rewarding factors for most 7PH players is the sense of personal ownership of their deck and the willingness to gain experience with it. It is particularly true of this format that mastery of your deck and knowledge of your local meta will give you a great edge and extra juicy percentage points for wins. The most surefire way to ensure you want to put reps in with your deck is to love it!
Talk to other highlander players about your ideas. Every conversation will be a rabbit hole of suggestions and opinions, but that’s the beauty and depth of the format exemplified! The exploration factor is very deep. The more information you gather, the more finely you’ll be able to tune your list. (Join the Discord and the Facebook group!)
Some further thoughts…
There are other benefits of building a two-colour deck for those who can be more flexible on other factors, like the use of proxies, or whether cards are exclusively part of their personal collection.
If owning even one ABUR dual land is impossible, having a two-colour deck and only lacking one card makes it a lot easier to borrow what you need at a tournament. While I fully appreciate that many people feel awkward about asking to borrow cards (myself included) and many don’t have the established network to do so, this can still help some players. You will quickly find that players who own these cards are all to happy to lend them out if it helps more prospective Highlander players join their local community!
If borrowing also isn’t an option, but you are ok with playing a suboptimal mana base, missing only one ABUR dual loses you much fewer in percentage points than being down three of them. If you’re following the tips above and electing to play a proactive deck that focuses on getting your opponent’s life total down to 0, then Shocking yourself with Volcanic Island every game will be irrelevant 9 times out of 10.
If your long-term goal is to play a 3+ colour deck, playing with two is a great way to get involved and gain experience while you build up to finding an ABUR dual land solution that works for you (and likewise, selecting exactly which colour combination you’d like to invest in and own in the future). Many decks, such as the Blue-Red example above can easily evolve to include a splash of Black, White, or Green according to your play style, and which additional Dual Lands you might eventually want to own down the track.
Go get ‘em, Tiger!
As it stands, we’re still a ways off this format being totally inaccessible to players who don’t want a second mortgage. There are plenty of options for players of all levels of competitiveness to get involved, even under financial limitations. Smart people are brainstorming in the background to come up with further, long-term solutions to the Reserved List issue to keep 7PH open and attainable for everyone.
In the meantime, entering the format with a two-colour deck is a great way to join in the fun, and still be a hard-boiled Spike!