In 2018 we saw a number of cards reduce in points in order to assist Combo and Aggro, both of which have seen a healthy uptick in play. This trend continues in the first update for 2019, as well as assistance for ‘fair’ decks competing in a world of Greed Creep.
Here are the changes:
Back to Basics -1 (now 0 Points)
Tinker -1 (now 2 Points)
Strip Mine -1 (now 1 Point)
Life from the Loam +1 (now 1 Point)
Here are the full details, followed by our current watch list:
BACK TO BASICS
-1 (to 0 Points)
In the past, the format was largely shared by powerful blue decks using Back to Basics, 3-colour midrange, and combo. Since the pointing of Back to Basics we have seen a very slow but steady rise in ‘Greed Creep’, wherein players are incentivised to splash a 4th colour, or even playing all 5 colours. Without sufficient punishment this becomes an arms-race and midrange value takes over, which we have largely seen in data from the last year of events (whilst Control is the most popular archetype, midrange has the best conversion rate, the greedier the better).
With Back to Basics at 0 Points there will be an uptick in the number of players looking to ‘call’ opponents on their greed. Likewise, anticipating more Moon-prison-style decks in the meta, players are more likely to play extra basic lands, curb their greed, and actively fetch basics, which somewhat mitigates the full power of these prison-esque cards. Along with Field of Ruin and Assassin’s Trophy there has never been a better time to sleeve up that extra basic land, and fundamentally having the fear of an opponent slamming Back to Basics helps as one of the many checks-and-balances to keeping a format ‘honest’.
The Committee will be keeping a close eye on Blood Moon and Back to Basics control decks, as they clearly gain from this update. However the best Control deck in the metagame, Grixis Control or ‘Kess Pile’, has been a favourite for some time now, and it is a good opportunity to provide a bonus point to a different control deck without benefiting Grixis. From a diversity standpoint it is an opportunity to have two different competing control decks rather than just one dominating the meta share (and simultaneously pushing the format toward greedier and greedier decks to combat its dominance).
Whilst fighting Greed Creep is a priority for some parts of the community, the Committee is aware that losing to moon-style effects can be very frustrating for others. We will be keeping an eye on Back to Basics to ensure it doesn’t cause a sharp increase in the amount of ‘un-fun’ Highlander experiences.
-1 (to 2 Points)
This powerhouse of yesteryear has seen next to no play largely due to the premier Control deck in the format making artifact synergy decks rather fragile, not to mention the presence of Dack Fayden in Control, Tempo, Midrange, and even some Combo main-decks. Tinker as a blue ‘MUD’ card also lives in a strange position, wherein once a deck is in blue the plethora of powerful spells as alternatives are just far better options than paying 3 for this win condition. This poses a crisis for potential Tinker players: MUD decks have to spend all their points on artifact acceleration, whereas blue decks should spend all their points on raw-power blue cards, and the Tinker player is stuck in the middle. The committee believes that a 2 Point Tinker will at least encourage eager players to brew with this archetype and we look forward to what develops.
-1 (to 1 Point)
Wasteland and Strip Mine are most often played together as a 3-point package and it is an important tool for aggro decks to beat control. Whilst both being 1 may look strange (and of course this invites decks that are only running Wasteland to make a ‘strict upgrade’), there are precedents for ‘strictly better’ cards on the points list that play comparably. The alternative of Wasteland at zero is a dramatic warping of the meta and not an option, however with Strip Mine at 1, paying a point for either card or two for both is still a non-trivial cost.
Strip Mine at 1 assists aggressive decks the most, making them able to prey on mana development which actively impacts Control opponents. There is also some encouragement for Tempo decks (natural predators of Control) to adopt the Strip-Waste package at 2 points in lieu of Treasure Cruise or other powerful blue cards, which creates some interesting deckbuilding space.
There is potential for Blue Moon and ANNIHILATOR SIX to adopt a Strip Mine to punish an opponent under Back to Basics, however Control decks forgoing another powerful blue point for a punisher mechanic such as this is less likely to occur (simply due to the sheer power level of blue pointed card options over Strip). Nevertheless, the Committee will be watching prison-based decks closely.
LIFE FROM THE LOAM
+1 (to 1 Point)
Whilst there are multiple options for ongoing repeatable Strip-Waste recursion in the form of Ramunap Excavator, Crucible of Worlds, and Life from the Loam, the latter is the lynchpin of the most degenerate engines. The former two examples are much easier to interact with game 1, and the power of Loam is evident in the redundancy built into decks in order to tutor out the card consistently. With Strip Mine coming down one point it was essential to add a commensurate point to the ‘Loam engine’ to ensure that for the most part the abusable recursion package remains the same number of points.
Some builds like traditional Value Junk which incidentally abuse a Wasteland and Renegade Rallier or Ramunap Excavator will gain a boost through the strict upgrade to Strip Mine, however in the majority of cases the more committed ‘Lands’ decks will opt not to forgo Life from the Loam, and therefore their points configuration will remain essentially untouched this update.
We’ve discussed many cards extensively, but here are the highlights that are actively on the Watch List for April:
Birthing Pod (-1): This card is undeniably powerful but has seen a very small portion of the meta share at 1 Point, largely because of the fear of sleeving up an artifact in the presence of Kolaghan’s Command and Co. However, since this announcement sees Strip Mine reduced we will carry over consideration of Pod to April, in order to ensure that ‘fair value’ decks like Junk and Elves do not potentially receive 2 free points at once.
Intuition (-1): This powerful combo card has received a lot of thought over the last few points updates and its possible reduction to 0 presents an excellent tool for top tier Combo decks like Storm and Reanimator, as well as assisting lesser-played archetypes like BUG/RUG Lands (to tutor out Loam).
Kess, Dissident Mage (+1): An excellent finisher that is resilient, applies pressure, and if you untap with her the game is often over. One point would moderate two of the best decks in the format, whilst leaving everything else largely unscathed. Therefore Kess is the prime target, but for now the Committee prefers to continue exploring options for reducing points on cards that can compete with dominant Kess decks or encourage underplayed archetypes, until this point is necessary.
Flash (+1): The Flash Hulk deck has received new printings like Spellseeker, and a de-pointing in the form of Worldly Tutor. Flash, is a key to ‘turn-two-wins’ and therefore a potential target to manage the power level of the deck. Flash also sees play in other decks without the 2 Point partner card Protean Hulk.
Mission Briefing (+1): A new card that operates similarly to a pointed card (Snapcaster Mage) and has seen a decent level of play since its printing. However it still requires some testing to prove that the restrictive manacost, lack of a body, and other differences actually warrant 1 Point status.
Gaea’s Cradle (+1): It’s possible (although we do not think likely) that removing the point from Strip Mine might cause a resurgence in a deck like ‘eLf-D’ (GW midrange Elves with a land destruction subtheme), to an unwelcome extent. If that happens, assuming the rest of the repercussions of the Strip Mine change are acceptable, expect a point to be placed on Gaea’s Cradle in order to re-balance the points configuration of the Elves archetypes. Beyond this of course, Cradle is a very powerful card regardless, and if it were a larger portion of the metagame the excellent ramp land would likely deserve a point on raw power level.
For now, we look forward to seeing your new brews, especially at the two major upcoming events; CanCon and GP Sydney!
We would also like to announce that going forward, the Committee will have a special early announcement every January Points Update (1 week in advance of the Pre-release) to allow everyone some additional time to brew with new changes in the lead-up to CanCon’s Highlander regular events.