Announcement: The Highlander Accessibility Rule

The majority of Highlander players (and those keen to enter the format) agree that format accessibility is an issue, so in the interests of longevity for Highlander, The Committee is announcing The Highlander Accessibility Rule.

The Highlander Accessibility Rule, aka “No RL Bonus Point” states that:

“If your deck contains no cards on the Reserved List, you are entitled to an additional Point.”

This rule is effective as of July 1st 2022.

Why this particular rule? 

For established players who own and play with Reserved List cards, Highlander remains essentially the same. For those who do not (yet) own Reserved List cards there is the option to gain a commensurate boost to their decks via an additional point. Whilst the primary concern is the accessibility of the 10 original Dual Lands, accessibility extends beyond these undeniable format staples into many other Reserved List cards that provide a dramatic increase in power level when available as deck building options. Whilst no one rule can exactly target the mana advantage offered by Gaea’s Cradle, or the unique combos inherent in Lion’s Eye Diamond, or the board control available with The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale, the “No RL Bonus Point” offers an all-encompassing acknowledgement that players who seek to start playing Highlander are not strictly at a disadvantage because they cannot afford one or more of these cards.  

Judge and Event Logistics

Unlike other competing rule ideas, the “No RL Bonus Point” presents fewer political barriers for store owners and Tournament Organisers than pseudo-proxy alternatives. Likewise there are fewer hurdles than opt-in deck checks with judges prior to an event, and additional cognitive load involved in ‘alternative named’ functional duplicates. So how does the “No RL Bonus Point” function in an event?

This Accessibility Rule does not substantively change the way that Highlander tournaments are conducted. 

Whilst this rule is new, and therefore seems like it should involve checks and balances to ensure players are upholding the rules of the format, in reality there is very little difference between adopting this accessibility rule, and actually submitting a deck with 7 Points. Fundamentally, Highlander already involves players checking their own points, and submitting a legal deck list. Realistically, the “No RL Bonus Point” option poses a small but likely negligible increase in the number of illegal decks submitted than we already have, i.e. mistakes players already make when they mis-count their 7 Points. There will essentially be no change to logistics in casual REL events. 

For Comp REL, there is no requirement for a player to approach a judge prior to an event and opt-in to use this rule, nor does one need to announce to their opponent “I’m on a budget”. Highlander in general does not require specific players to tell a Judge which points they are playing, nor tell the configuration of their points to their opponent. The “No RL Bonus Point” is no different. 

At Comp REL judges conduct random deck checks during the event, which they use to maintain event integrity often by checking that a deck contains 7 Points. This new rule now places an additional task for Judges during random deck checks to ensure that the 75 are in fact legal. The penalty when a player includes a bonus point and an RL card will be identical to the current approach when a Judge’s deck check reveals more than 7 Points; the judge requires that surplus pointed cards are removed (at the player’s choice) in order to make the deck legal, along with the relevant warning/penalty appropriate to that REL. 

In short, the new Accessibility Rule does not substantively change the way that Highlander tournaments are conducted. 

Can anyone use this rule?

This Accessibility Rule is not just for new players. Should you own Reserved List cards and wish to eschew all of them when building a deck, you may take advantage of the bonus point. There are different opinions on whether 1 Point is worth foregoing numerous dual lands and aforementioned powerful cards. Some may not feel a single bonus point is worth the cost of losing access to two-colours of fetch-able mana without any associated damage (or the cost of being ‘tapped’), whereas others may see an additional point as format-breaking (and it differs per deck). Only time will tell. 

Regardless, the message is clear: if you do not own Reserved List cards, you aren’t strictly at a disadvantage when building a Highlander deck

Deck Building and Lists

When lodging your deck list for a tournament, you can do your Judges a courtesy and note “No RL” in your deck name. This should take no longer than it takes you to flag/asterisk your Pointed cards on paper lists, and helps Judges during random Deck Checks in Comp REL events. When compiling your list online, note that many deck building websites have a function that tells you whether a card is on the Reserved List:

A common online decklist website function

Whilst some may believe that the Reserved List may cause confusion in this process, realistically, new players do not own obscure Reserved List cards that are playable (or even remotely powerful) in Highlander, and established players often know which 0-Point Highlander staples are ineligible for “No RL” decks. 

Future-Proofing Accessibility

Looking forward, there is no evidence to suggest that the Reserved List is going away, and our primary concern is future-proofing the accessibility of the format. It is the view of The Committee that where possible we seek to reduce barriers around affordability and support the emerging player base. The Accessibility Rule is being made at a time when the cheapest versions of blue Dual Lands are pushing $1,000 each, and are essentially staples in almost every competitive deck of the relevant colours. Beyond this there are also growing concerns about skyrocketing prices of RL cards like those pictured above, many of which have no effective budget parallels. This is not to mention the eternal issue of Power (specifically blue spells and Moxen) which were already out of reach for the vast majority of the player base, even before recent price spikes. By establishing a rule that acknowledges this barrier to entry, and applies as a blanket to all Reserved List cards, we seek to have something in place in perpetuity, should these cards continue to become more and more inaccessible as time goes on.

The common board state to see in Highlander, when one player has access to Reserved List cards and the other does not

Re-assessment of this new rule

The Committee acknowledges that theory-crafting, community consultation, and experimental deck building can only go so far. The Highlander Accessibility Rule still needs a dedicated real-world trial, and therefore we make this announcement with the knowledge that “No RL Bonus Point” is actively under review. This does not mean Accessibility is temporary; for all intents and purposes this new rule is now officially part of the Highlander ruleset. However, we do wish to flag that The Committee will be watching the metagame closely, crunching data that arise from events, and evaluating the effect of the Highlander Accessibility Rule over the coming year. 

In the meantime, we encourage new players and established players alike to experiment with the “No RL Bonus Point” rule to their heart’s content!

Dr Sarven McLinton

Sarven has been playing Magic the Gathering since Stronghold (1998) and is on The Highlander Points Committee. He is well-versed in a wide variety of deck archetypes but remains an avid student of the game. Sarven is a passionate writer and seeks to apply his extensive experience in research and statistics to gaming. By day, 'Dr McLinton' works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Workplace Excellence (CWeX) managing various projects investigating psychosocial factors at work, as well as lecturing Psychology Honours and supervising PhD candidates. By night, 'McLinton Sensei' teaches traditional Japanese Karate in South Australia's premiere sporting centre, the ARC Campbelltown. He holds a 4th-degree black belt and is a gold medalist, competing both nationally and internationally in Karate and Open-style contact tournaments.