Welcome to the 7 point Highlander deck primer for BR aggro. My current list can be found from the following link which I keep updated regularly.
Why play BR aggro?
There are many reasons you might want to pick up this deck. You like burn spells, you like redundancy, you like consistency or you’re very impatient (Disclaimer, you will need some patience to play this deck, or any deck, optimally).
Due to the huge amount of redundancy in this list, naturally the deck is very consistent. By combing recursive creatures with efficient burn spells you’ve got solid plans for just about every match up. Here is my list at the time of writing this article:
The final major reason, possibly my favourite reason, is that the deck is so customisable in it’s individual card choices. Almost any card can be played if it fits one of the philosophies for the archetype.
What are the deck’s philosophies?
The first major philosophy is of course, ‘Attack’, Attacking is how you will win most of your games, by playing sticky aggressive creatures and removing blockers with burn spells, and later using the remaining burn spells at your opponent’s face. Playing the deck in this fashion is similar to your best aggro limited deck, which not coincidentally is what this deck looks like at first glance.
The second major philosophy is ‘control/disrupt’. A lot of creature based decks are often playing removal spells, just as you are, the difference is that your creatures recur. By utilising a large amount of removal you can easily throw your opponent off balance and wait for them to trip before you start attacking. You don’t need to be on the front foot from turn 1, but the moment you are on the front foot you want to try not to lose it. The other ways you can disrupt are with Wasteland and Strip mine in the main deck, with many side board options, such as blood moon. Keep your opponent from gaining traction until they slip.
The minor philosophy of the deck is ‘Grind’. Aside from your creatures coming back from the graveyard, you have a few other ways of generating card advantage. Cards like Necropotence and Skullclamp are the obvious stand outs. But there are other ways of getting implicit card advantage such as Grim Lavamancer, Bonecrusher Giant. If you draw enough cards, you will draw enough burn to kill your opponent.
I like to apply all these philosophies whenever a new card is spoiled. The exception I like to make is that it is a card that deals with problems that are also new, such as Oko, Thief of Crowns.
What points do you recommend?
As of the Dungeons and Dragons: Adventures in the forgotten realms set the points are as follows.
Mox Jet, 3 points. Realistically if you’re looking for a budget version of this deck, you can get away with not playing a mox jet. It does however sometimes give you games in which you just are at a huge advantage straight away. Ideal lists you probably play one, I’ll get in to what I recommend for alternatives later.
Strip Mine, 2 points, Wasteland, 1 point. These cards are in my opinion the best 3 points you can spend on this archetype. They are some of your best main deck cards against combo decks. Highlander is a format tight on mana, and being able to trip up your opponent fits directly into your game plan in every match up. Because you are at a low land count sometimes you have to use them for mana and you often need to restrain yourself from sacrificing them.
Skullclamp, 1 point. This card turns your recursive creatures into an incredibly efficient engine. By attaching this card as a damage/insurance boost is also very powerful as you’ll find your opponents making awkward blocks just to stop you drawing cards.
The points I’m not playing
Mox Ruby, 3 Points. The short answer is black (at least currently) is more important in the deck than red, more often than not your red cards can afford to be played in later turns. Some people like the double mox build for maximum possibility of having a potentially more aggressive start. If you want to do this I recommend changing the creature package to include more red 1 drops.
Deathrite Shaman, 1 Point. At 1 point this card is not better than the rest of the points in your deck. If the card is at 0 points, play it in place of your least favourite 1 drop creature and add a bayou to the deck, I personally would cut mountain and Rakdos Cackler. Play this in a moxless version.
Umezawa’s Jitte, 1 Point. This card is great in any creature meta, you will very often be able to force attacks through with the amount of burn you have, and trading recursive creatures for Jitte counters is often worth it. I currently would have the card in the sideboard for my metagame if it were 0 points. I would play this in a moxless version, if even in just the sideboard.
Lutri, the Spell Chaser, 1 point. Lutri being free in every red and/or blue highlander deck makes this a snap inclusion in the sideboard were it 0 points. While the card fits the ‘grind’ philosophy of the deck it is not more powerful than any other of the points in the deck currently. I would play this as the third and final pointed card in a moxless list.
The points that might be
Price of progress. This card has had some talk around being pointed and has been pointed in the past. This card is incredibly powerful, it allows you to end games fast, or top deck wins. Assuming this card gets pointed I would evaluate the metagame and compare it against skull clamp.
Blood Moon & Magus of the Moon. This card gives you great disruptive game against quite a reasonable amount of combo decks. However if it gets pointed, I’d probably just drop it, it would be hard to justify playing these as points.
Tuning for metagames and changing the build
What is not in the deck is also very important, because it’s not that these cards aren’t good enough, but are better in different metagames. My general philosophy is build it around the ‘attack’ aspect. But certain cards both main and board can slow the deck down to adapt to certain metagames.
For midrange metagmes you will primarily want to ‘grind’. Cards like Cursed Scroll, Geralf’s Messenger and Falkenrath Aristocrat are cards you can easily play in the mainboard. For side board options cards like Deathmark, Gatekeeper of Malakir and Noxious Grasp are fine choices. Midrange will tend to have larger creatures than you so being able to keep the big creatures away is ideal, you will often two for one yourself just to remove a big creature and try make up the card advantage later down the line.
For combo metagames, Pyrostatic Pillar is viable in the main. The deck tends to have a weak combo matchup and you’ll need to lean on your disruptive pieces and a quick clock. In the sideboard you can include hand disruption, but keep in mind these cards are not good to side in against control decks.
For aggro metagames, move cards like Searing Blaze into the main and cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir, Forked Bolt or anything which works as a two for one. Most decks don’t have sticky creatures and are weak to lots of removal.
For control metagames, you can play whatever you feel like, they have a hard time turning the corner and counterspells are easily combated by already having a creature in play and just pointing burn spells at the face end of turn.
What do I take out when side boarding?
As I mentioned earlier this deck looks like a limited deck, and often you should treat side boarding as such. For example, a Spike Jester isn’t very good against a deck full of Lingering Souls and mana dorks. Work out which of you philosophies is least important and shave those elements. For example, you don’t want Necropotence against combo as it fits your ‘grind’ philosophy which is the last place you want to be against combo. You always want to stick to your game plan and build your deck with them in mind. Remember to always build your 75 and not just a 60 plus a 15. If this doesn’t make sense, try looking up the ‘Elephant deck building method’ (an excellent article by Zvi Mowshowitz).
When building this sort of deck always look to have every card in the mainboard be as proactive as possible. In my list above the only exception to this rule I’ve made is Necropotence, and even that is only in the main half of the time. Always aim to be as proactive as possible, you don’t want a deck full of reactive cards post board either, be sure to strive for a good balance.
I don’t want to play this deck, but I really want to beat it. What do you recommend?
Luckily, aggro decks are easy to tune against. 4 toughness creatures are a nightmare for this deck, even if they only have 2 power they are still annoying for the deck. But a general rule is, play more lands and cheaper spells, avoid getting tripped up, once you’re on the back foot it is very hard to recover.
If you’re a combo deck, aim to be as fast as possible, when paired against dedicated combo the deck is mostly just hoping to race when it can’t rely on a disruptive element.
What tips and tricks do you have for someone who has never played this deck before?
Let’s say you want to add this deck to your gauntlet and want to maximise on testing accuracy and playing optimally. There are a few really tricky cards, most of which revolve around you managing your own life total which in some match up can be a nightmare.
Scourge of the Skyclaves is one of my favourite additions from recent sets, the downside is that you cutting your own life total in the start of the game can be a big risk later, the moment your opponent turns the corner you’ve got fewer turns to draw outs. The same applies to Necropotence, Price of Progress and Dark Confidant. These cards work well with Scourge but too many of them will leave you in trouble.
Don’t be afraid to slow down, sometimes it’s not correct to jam the creature into open counter magic or point a burn spell at a potential pump spell. To best play around counter magic, play your recursive creatures into that mana. You don’t always need to jam your best threat right away if you think your opponent has 1 drop removal. They will need to keep you off gaining a foothold so you can try leverage better cards later.
Managing your graveyard is also very tricky, always be mindful of what you exile from it, when you do so and why. Barbarian Ring is a real card, don’t forget you can activate it in response to an activation.
How do I stack my triggers?
There’s lots of mini triggers and correct ways to stack them. Spawn of Mayhem, Dark Confidant and Carnophage for example. You want to stack them: [Dark Confidant > Carnophage > Spawn of Mayhem] This lets you use the most information and increases the likely hood of Spawn getting a counter. There’s Goblin Guide and Robber of the Rich, maximise your chance of hitting a spell by having Goblin Guide resolve first.
There are so many tiny interactions that will give you percentage points, I recommend looking out for them all the time. It’s surprising how often these things come up. This deck is very good for practising those fundamentals, especially how to play an aggro deck as a control deck.
Thank you all for reading this article, I hope it somehow improves your knowledge on this deck.