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ACT: 7 Point Highlander Nationals 2023 | Deck Lists & Tournament Report

Michael Billinghurst – Omnath walks:

Full lists and stats can be found here, curtesy of Graham King

The big day approached, highlander nationals, the year that finally one of the illustrious BEMB would finally claim the trophy.

14 of us travelled down together from Melbourne, sporting the iconic tye-died blue t-shirts, and ready to play some highlander. We tested a bunch of highlander leading up the event, and had several copies of the naya menace (initiative) sleeved up and ready to go. I knew that initiative would be popular, but I had a plan for the matchup, and felt pretty good. Despite testing with and against it and deciding it was probably the best deck for the event, no-one on the team ended up playing initiative, and we turned up on Saturday with two copies of the 75 in bags unplayed.
I guess Melbourne is full of coffee loving hipsters.

I felt pretty good about the event today, having extensively tested and tuned the Omnath Time walks deck I’d been playing for the past 18 months, on and off. So good in fact that I’d spent the entire day previously playing other people’s decks, and helping Jim tune his Jeskai deck instead of my own, and almost registered the wrong sideboard, because I forgot update my moxfield with changes I’d made the week before.

Saturday started as all good Canberra highlander events should. In a paddock waiting for the event with our team shirts on, drinking something that could only broadly be considered coffee, and generally having a great time.

Tournament Report

This report was written up a couple of weeks after the event, and my memory of the games isn’t perfect, so I apologise to any opponents if I’ve misremembered the exact sequence of cards. Let me know if there are any errors and I’ll correct them. If not, welcome to the journey of my stream of consciousness about the event

Round 1 – Grixis Tempo 2-0
I sat down to an opponent I didn’t recognise, but who played a few Grixis creatures as we played out an interactive game 1, which I eventually won through combat damage, with the charge being lead by an early Territorial Kavu, that looted me into some extra removal and interaction.
I still wasn’t totally sure what my opponent’s plan was, but I had seen a Thieves’ Guild Enforcer, which surprised me and lead me to think that they may have a more aggressively slanted deck than game 1 had lead me to believe.
Game 2 was defined by a super interesting turn 2/3. My opponent had lead on a fetch land, and passed both turns 1 and two after a mulligan, without casting any creatures. I also passed on the first two turns, declining to fetch to play around stifle, or cast my two drop (a Coiling oracle) because I expected a mana drain. When my opponent played a land and no spell on turn 3, I knew something was up. Deciding that my spell pierce+force of will was probably enough to get rescue me, I fetched for the first time, looking to cast my eladamri’s call in the end step. We had a flurry of spells, Their stifle, my force, their mana drain and my spell pierce, culminating in them attempting to force of negation, which I pointed out was happening in their end step. With my fetchland finally resolving, I was able to escape from the mana denial plan of my opponent, and get onto the board, which

Round 2 – RW Moonshine/Initiative 2-0
This round I knew my opponent, and was pretty confident that they were on a white based version of the RW initiative deck, so I kept a removal heavy hand. This was quickly confirmed by a pair of moms, which met with removal spells, as we traded resources. Fortunately they had drawn a fairly slow resilient hand, which folded to a turn 4 spell seeker into a turn 5 combo with a mana drain to defend it from removal.
Game 2 I got to board in blue blasts and force of vigor to protect from the moons, which are the best cards in the matchup, but it mattered little behind the raw power of an evoked ephemerated Fury to clean up an early aggressive start.

Round 3 – Naya Initiative? 2-0
Vague memories of this round, I believe my opponent stumbled, and lost a game to their comet rolling two threes with an empty graveyard. Bad beats.

Round 3.5 – Lunch Chicken Curry food truck – No longer hungry

The best round, and the matchup I was most comfortable with. This round was a teams event, where I combined with my teammates to absolutely demolish some chicken curry from the food truck. Was surprisingly tasty, if a little expensive for the captive audience tax. Definitely the best food available at the venue though, would recommend. Also there was a charity Auction and we raised a bunch of money for charity. Go highlander community yay!

Round 4 – Omnath Walks 2-1
Paired into the mirror at 3-0, and yet to lose a game, I was feeling excellent about my deck design skills :D. Had a chat with the opponent about the deck, the design choices, We played close games, where I drew a little better. Interestingly my opponent was playing comet and the initiative 4 drops, which fairly poor in the matchup, but had apparently been good so far that day.

Round 5 Blue Moon 2-1

Close games against the eventual top 8 8pt blue moon deck. Game 1 was claimed by a 2 mana creature on the play followed by 5 counterspells from my opponent, and we shuffled up for game 2. I hadn’t seen any of the moon effects, but did see several islands in game 1, so I made the assumption that I should board in my force of vigor and multiple blue blasts. I never saw a moon from my opponent, but they promised me they were there.
Games two and three were much less one-sided, with us both getting to resolve spells. Unfortunately for my opponent, the games that we both resolve spells, and they don’t find a blood moon tend to go badly for them, and I was able to proceed to a 6-0 record.

Round 6 Naya Initiative 1-2
There were 3 players at 6-0, and I got the pair-down, so didn’t ID. I even watched two of my team-mates ID at 4-1 a table down from me to preserve both of their chances at a win and in, but more on them later.
Initiative going to initiative.
After game 1 I wasn’t 100% certain what my opponent was on, I assumed some sort of initiative plan, but I saw mostly elves (and one silly goose), and 5 and 6 mana creatures, including a mythic werewolf that I had to read twice, before I determined that it definitely wasn’t allowed to resolve, and ending the game.
Games 2 and 3 demonstrated why the initiative deck was to be feared, with fast mana leading into turn 2 initiative creatures that I was unable to recover from, I took my first match loss for the day, but still was able to secure an ID into top 8 at 5-1.

Round 7 Leslie Flash 2-1
Or so I thought.
Due to my teammates brilliant plan to preserve their win and ins, the top 8 wasn’t clear cut, and most people had to play. I ended up playing one of them, with me playing for first seed in the swiss, and him playing to sneak into 8th. I knew that this was a bad matchup, as I didn’t have a lot of interaction that worked, and Flash presented very quick kills, so I just had to hope Michael got a little unlucky.

Game 1 I see a hand of Mana drain+ misstep and force of Will, and snap keep. I don’t have a lot else going on, but hope that will be good enough. Leslie leads on turn 2 with a Gitaxian probe, that I mistep, hiding my force, and then casts a hermit druid, which resolves. I untap, bounce it with a T3feri, and pass, tapped out. Hermit returns to play, and leaves me needing to find an answer again, I don’t and pass back to leslie with 4 mana, a T3feri, and nothing on board, but feeling pretty good about the combination of T3feri and two counterspells. Leslie draws for turn, casts inquisition, which I mana drain, leaving myself tapped out of blue, with a force available. Hermit activates, spilling over the deck, and he casts cabal therapy, then tanks for a while discussing whether to name Force of Will or Force of Negation. He names force of negation, sees force of will, gets dread return forced, and then loses because Teferi stops him from memory’s journeying in the upkeep.

Game 2, I die to a fast flash + interaction.
Game 3 is the worst game of magic of the day. I keep a 6 card hand of Ice-fang Coatl, veil of summer, Hierarch and 3 lands. I play the hierach, veil a probe (to hide the fact I have nothing, and take my 2 for 1), and then cast coatl.
We then play 10 turns where I attack for 2, draw a land, and pass. The game ends with us both having 11 lands in play, and nothing relevant in hand, and Ice-fang attacking for lethal.

6-1 and first seed into top 8.

Top 8 Grixis Oracle

I’m paired against the other half of the ID-ing teammates bracket. We played a super long match full of stupid banter, but I have two key memories. The first was casting dress down in response to a discard spell to stop the combo, then next turn casting it in my endstep while he was tapped out with serra parragon, all while he had a voidwalker in play that did nothing.
Tom has the combo that I know about, and is building up for a win with some interaction up. On the turn he goes for it, I have some countermagic, and then I’m able to endurance away his graveyard, to stop the oracle kill.
Then the game continues. I ask Tom if he can still win and whether he should concede and he says he can. I investigate his exile pile, and mentally check off against his decklist. Reanimate in exile, doesn’t play kolaghan’s command or JTMS. Don’t think there’s an unsummon effect… how can he win?
We play for several more turns, with me pretty certain I can’t lose, but playing defensively just in case, until Tom finally shows me the line… upkeep submerge his own oracle, then try and draw and cast it with an empty library. Awesome line, but I had a bolt and take the match.

Top 4 Naya initiative – again

My only lost match so far today, and we’re playing again in the top.
I win the first game, in what was the most dominant game I played that day:
Turn 1 hierach, turn 2 removal for my opponents turn 1 elf, holding up drain, turn 3 minsc &boo, attack for 2, sack the token to kill my opponents t2 creature, drawing two cards, turn 4 time walk+kavu for lethal.
I lose game two to a mana crypt draw. It’s not close.

I feel pretty good going into game three. My opponent leads on a tapped shock land. I probe on turn two (drawing a hierach 🙁 ) and see a hand of: Ancient tomb, White Plume Adventurer, Goblin Rabblemaster, caves of chaos adventurer, undermountain adventurer, fetchland, (something). Oh no. I get to hold up a coatl to do it’s job and recover me the initiative on my turn, but I’m under a lot of pressure.
My opponent deploys his threats, including finding a 3 mana thalia, but I’m able to get to 6 mana, taking back the initiative each turn with the coatl, which lets me cast a fury, cleaning up the rabble master and the tokens, blocking with it, then ephemerating after first strike damage to kill all the unblocked attackers to survive on one life. When the dust clears, I’m left with a fury against a (post combat) thalia3, with my opponent at 6 from their ancient tomb, and myself at 1, both hellbent. My attack with Fury forces a trade, and the initiative triggers in the upkeep to scry them into a queen marchesa for the match. Good Game.

I realise, as I’m packing up my initiative token that I was currently in the stash, and the attack I declined to keep my Ice Fang Coatl to block would have left me with a 4/1 to block, keeping me the initiative, and possibly winning me the game. Upsetting, but I’m proud of how I played that tournament up until that moment.

Highlander nationals was a blast as always, with our biggest turnout ever this year. It’s been awesome getting to play paper highlander again, and I look forward to seeing the friends I’ve made all around the country down in Melbourne for Masters in June.

Congratulations Josh, well played and well deserved

1stJoshua OphelNaya Initiative
2ndBen HewittGrixis Tempo
3rd – 4thDavid GonzalezRW Initiative
3rd – 4thMichael Billinghurst4c Time Walks
5th – 8thLeo MorrisBlue Moon (8pts)
5th – 8thTom CliftGrixis Oracle
5th – 8thJared Allsop4c Omnath
5th – 8thJim DowlingJeskai Tempo