Highlander Decks: An Orientation
Are you new to Highlander and don’t know where to start? In this Orientation you will be introduced to some of the major archetypes in 7-Point Highlander, along with links to archetype primers and deck lists.
- If you’re an existing player, use the pull-down menu on the Decks tab above to find the deck you’re looking for via their overarching play-style.
- If you’re a new to highlander, keep reading and we’ll help you find your feet!
7-Point Highlander is a wide-open format where both Powered and un-Powered decks can go toe-to-toe, and you’ll see all the elements of traditional Magic: the Gathering, from Limited-style creature combat through to two-card combos. Competitive play has a good representation of: lean Aggro decks; huge Ramp decks; finely-tuned Tempo decks; value-filled Midrange decks; fast Combo decks, and; powerful Control decks. Highlander is a rare breed in that it is a brewer-friendly competitive format, and new evolutions in the metagame are continually being discovered.
There are around 18 major deck archetypes in Highlander, so constructing your list around one of the themes below will be an excellent place to start. You can be confident that if you start your build within one of these ‘pillars’ your deck will be competitive from the get-go, and then you can continually tweak your own unique list the more you play. Alternately, if you’d rather just sleeve up an existing list, scroll to the bottom for our YouTube deck techs from the 7 Minute 7 Point Series.
Each archetype has a more detailed Primer attached, so click on the associated link to further explore any archetype that piques your interest. You’ll find deck lists, deck techs, and feature match video coverage of each archetype in action!
Izzet Control decks in Highlander have a powerful tool in the form of Blood Moon effects, a lock piece that hampers your opponent’s manabase development.
Key cards: Back to Basics, Magus of the Moon, Mystic Confluence.
You’ll like this if: you prefer stable manabases and enjoy locking out greedy decks, or if you are on a strict budget, since Blue Moon can even be built to avoid Volcanic Island.
Variations: Some archetypes use Splinter Twin and Deceiver Exarch, or Sneak Attack and Emrakul the Aeons Torn to provide a combo finish. Others splash a third colour to shore up weaknesses, such as White for Swords to Plowshares and a plethora of sideboard options like Timely Reinforcements. Want to learn more?
If they can survive early aggression and potential threats to their manabase, 3 and 4 colour Midrange almost inevitably grinds out any fair match by playing all the strongest cards possible.
Key cards: Kolaghan’s Command, Leovold Emissary of Trest, Jace the Mind Sculptor.
You’ll like this if: you want to win by accruing two-for-one value, via a mega-mix of the best card in every past Standard environment.
Variants: some UBRG decks opt for raw power and forego counterspells to play Bloodbraid Elf and Shardless Agent, whilst others explore the synergy Birthing Pod has to offer. BRG and RUG value decks drop a colour to be less susceptible to Blood Moon, and there are even alternate 4C combinations that run powerhouses like Queen Marchesa. Want to learn more?
Every eternal format boasts a Storm-based combo deck, and Highlander’s uses all the best Storm win conditions coupled with creative cards that supplement the Ritual and Cantrip suite.
Key Cards: Yawgmoth’s Will, Empty the Warrens, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Darkwater Egg.
You’ll like this if: you want a clear objective, but often need to find complicated and creative lines of play to achieve it.
Variants: the biggest difference in Storm variants are variants playing with Black Lotus for fast kills (which can revolve around Tendrils of Agony, or Channel and Lich’s Mirror), or those foregoing Power to gain access to a suite of flexible one-point cards instead. Want to learn more?
These Midrange decks capitalise on Green’s ability to find special lands and also reuse them.
Key Cards: Strip Mine, Life from the Loam, Exploration, Thespian’s Stage.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy assembling prison elements like Wasteland and Ramunap Excavator to grind out value whilst slowly closing the game with creatures.
Variants: beyond Green, a second and third colour adds more tutors for Loam, or more synergies with Dark Depths and the land recursion plan. Black adds a Loam tutor in the form of Entomb, as well as Vampire Hexmage to help summon Marit Lage. Red gives you access Gamble and Wrenn and Six, whilst Blue presents powerful tutors in Gifts Ungiven and Intuition. Last, White adds a powerful land tutor and threat; Knight of the Reliquary. Want to learn more?
These decks take many forms, but all operate on the logic that speed is the key to closing the game, and a zero-mana Power will get you that. Efficient 1 and 2 cost creatures deployed as early as possible will apply pressure, with Red providing burn spells for reach.
Key cards: Cursed Scroll, Grim Lavamancer, Mox Ruby, Jet, and/or Emerald.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy interacting via creature combat, and finishing rounds early.
Variations: adding Black provides a constant source of damage from small recursive creatures that also couple well with Skullclamp. Alternately Green and White have a host of robust critters like Kird Ape, Loam Lion, and Tarmogoyf. Red-based aggro decks can even take other flavours like Affinity, whilst White instead offers taxing ‘Hatebears’ like Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Want to learn more?
These decks all use powerful artifacts to leap ahead in mana development and deploy large threats earlier than the opponent. The Artifact synergies also offer options to assemble two-card combos that win on the spot.
Key cards: Ancient Tomb, Trinisphere, Grim Monolith.
You’ll like this if: you want to have huge threats and a consistent manabase to play them.
Variants: an entirely colourless build can support Eldrazi like Thought-knot Seer and Reality Smasher, whereas Blue offers Tinker and other artifact synergies from Time Vault Combo decks. Green provides the powerhouse ramp spell Channel, whilst Red is an opportunity to play Midrange threats like Glorybringer ahead of curve. Want to learn more?
Blue tempo decks use counterspells to protect their threats, and Red or Black removal for blockers to ensure that an opponent cannot stabilise before their life total reaches zero.
Key cards: Daze, Time Walk, Delver of Secrets, Price of Progress.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy being mana efficient, defending one key threat, and engineering victories off very fine margins.
Variations: Magus of the Moon is a reason to keep to two-colours, however Tempo decks often splash a third or forego Red entirely. Green adds powerful early threats such as Hexdrinker and Tarmogoyf, whereas Black offers cheaper interaction like Thoughtseize. Want to learn more?
This control deck borders on Midrange as it is filled with powerful two-for-one value spells that let you grind advantage through to the late game.
Key cards: Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan’s Command, Hymn to Tourach.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy interacting back and forth with your opponent and trying to ensure you come out on top of the value exchange.
Variations: These decks can be built closer to the Control end of the spectrum with a heavy counterspell package like Mana Leak and Cryptic Command. Alternately you can branch into the power offered by a fourth colour and fill the deck with all the best threats and answers, allowing you to grind value like Midrange. Want to learn more?
Flash Combo (WUBGr)
These hybrid Combo-Midrange decks aim to resolve the card Flash and cheat out a win-condition, whilst still maintaining an alternative strategy of simply attacking with creatures.
Key Cards: Flash, Spellseeker, Wordly Tutor.
You’ll like this if: you like having a clear primary game plan, but also a reliable backup if your opponent focusses too much on interacting with the Flash combo itself.
Variants: The fastest combo versions involve Mystical Tutor and cards that Transmute for Flash, then deploy Protean Hulk to create a winning combination of creatures. Slower Flash decks focus on having a stronger midrange plan, and revolve around Academy and Arena Rectors to create huge threats that effectively win the game in short order. Want more? A new Primer Article is on its way!
In every eternal format a Burn deck will arise. Burn is a mono Red aggro deck that focusses on getting your opponent’s life total to zero before they can stabilise.
Key Cards: Monastery Swiftspear, Chain Lightning, Wheel of Fortune.
You’ll like this if: you want to have a clear game plan, finish matches quickly, and get the chance to play every burn spell in the history of Magic.
Variations: whist the mono-Red burn deck optimises speed by running Black Lotus and Mox Ruby as its points, some players instead splash Blue for cards like Treasure Cruise and Snapcaster Mage as a means to ‘redraw’ up their hand of burn spells. Further, for Jeskai builds White offers Boros Charm and small disruptive creatures that apply pressure. Want to learn more?
Reanimator decks try to deploy a large threat for much cheaper than its actual mana cost by utilising the graveyard. An early Entomb for Griselbrand, followed by an Animate Dead can often put the opponent very far behind even if answered by a removal spell.
Key Cards: Vampiric Tutor, Faithless Looting, Reanimate.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy a proactive game plan and assembling two card combinations.
Variants: Graveyard combo decks often leverage top-deck tutors like Imperial Seal to ensure they can enact their game plan before the opponent can mount a defence. Some versions fill the deck with a specific selection of creatures, and then use self-mill like Hermit Druid to win the game from the graveyard itself. Want to learn more?
Although they lack the raw power of ‘Good-stuff’ Control, these decks make up for it in build-around synergies. Each list builds around a different card or mechanic, either breaking symmetry or leveraging more ‘bang for their buck’.
Key Cards: Balance, Gifts Ungiven, Entreat the Angels.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy engineering complex board-states, and having ‘an out’ to any situation.
Variants: some Jeskai lists store their cantrips in trinkets like Sensei’s Divining Top to make for lopsided Balances, whilst Esper versions seek to abuse the Miracle mechanic. Others gain card advantage and combos via Gifts Ungiven, or looping Ancestral Recall repeatedly. Want to learn more?
Anywhere from 4 to 8 Llanowar Elf variants ensure that you start deploying threats ahead of your opponent. These small creatures maintain their utility in the late game by carrying equipment into battle, or fueling Skullclamp.
Key Cards: Umezawa’s Jitte, Qasali Pridemage, Siege Rhino, Thoughtseize.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy breaking creature-combat symmetry by equipping your team with a Sword of Fire and Ice, or cheating out an early Batterskull.
Variants: Staying in Abzan colours lets you play powerful BB cards like Liliana the Last Hope whilst being resistant to Moon effects and Choke, whereas going four colours (WUGb) grants you Counterspells and Vendilion Clique to improve your Combo matchup. Want to learn more?
Time Vault Combo (Ux)
This archetype can be built anywhere along the Combo-Control spectrum, either granting the ability to take infinite turns with a Time Vault as quickly as possible, or planning to deploy the namesake and an ‘untapper’ via a slower but more well-protected game plan.
Key cards: Whir of Invention, Academy Ruins, Voltaic Key, Goblin Engineer.
You’ll like this if: you want to play a resilient Combo deck that has a lot of flexibility around how to construct it.
Variants: Whilst some Vault decks stick to two colours to leverage Back to Basics, others tap into the raw power of the Grixis shell, enabling them to fall back on a strong Midrange or Control strategy when facing faster Combo decks, or artifact hate post-sideboard. Want to learn more?
Thassa's Oracle (UBxx)
This type of Combo deck uses Thassa’s Oracle (or ‘Thoracle’) to win the game on the spot, and is very difficult for the opponent to disrupt short of a Stifle style effect.
Key cards: Tainted Pact, Demonic Consultation, Gifts Ungiven.
You’ll like this if: you want a flexible play style that can adapt to different match-ups, and always have a combo up your sleeve.
Variants: Esper builds incorporate a Tempo element, allowing you to deploy a large threat like Gurmag Angler and protect it via the interaction typically reserved for forcing through your Combo plan. On the other hand, Grixis versions use a Control shell, allowing the option to play a conventional ‘fair’ game when you can’t find or resolve the combo. Primer Article coming soon!
Creature-based Ramp (Gxx)
Mana-producing creatures team up with Gaea’s Cradle to ensure that Green Ramp decks are always ahead of the curve, letting them dominate fair matchups by outclassing their opponent’s threats. The Combo matchup can pose a problem, so Green Ramp is equipped to deploy a combo of their own in the form of Natural Order.
Key cards: Titania Protector of Argoth, Utopia Sprawl, Craterhoof Behemoth.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy summoning bigger creatures than your opponent, and always having an ace up your sleeve.
Variants: adding a splash of Black or White gives green access to sideboard cards that shore up weaknesses, such as Duress, Abrupt Decay, and Qasali Pridemage. Red on the other hand provides powerful lock pieces to resolve on turn 2 such as Blood Moon. Want to learn more?
Theme Combo (Ux)
Just like the iconic Themes (Storm and Graveyard Combo), these decks all revolve around a particular mechanic or card type that let you do powerful things when you reach a critical mass.
Key Cards: although these differ dramatically, each deck usually seeks to play many of the same key word, card type, or mechanic.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy replicating the same game state, but often via different means each time.
Variants: examples include building around: a particular mechanic such as Infect or Prowess; a specific card type like Enchantments and pay-offs for doing so; an effect such as Recycle or Future Sight to churn through your deck, or; a creature type like Goblins to exploit tribal synergies. Primer Article coming soon!
Namesake Card Combo (Uxxx)
Just like the iconic Namesake Combos (Thassa’s Oracle, Flash, and Time Vault), these decks all revolve around a specific card that allows you to win the game on the spot once certain conditions are met.
Key Cards: Tutors, spells with Transmute, and redundant versions of the namesake card.
You’ll like this if: you enjoy brewing with ‘build around’ cards.
Variants: examples include building around: Scapeshift, to deal lethal damage via Valakut the Molten Pinnacle; Tolarian Academy or High Tide, either of which combine with untap effects and ‘draw seven’ spells like Time Spiral to churn through your deck, or; Food Chain, which permits you to sacrifice Squee the Immortal for infinite mana and win the game with big creatures. Primer Article coming soon!