Tribal Thriftiness: There Can Be Only One… uh… Old Dragon

Dave tires of playing mere sixty-card decks. Dave struggles against the oppression of “four-of” deck construction. Dave yearns to take to the skies and lead his forces to victory! So barring playing with Form of the Dragon, how can Dave shed his meager mortal mage shell and fly, free from the constrictions of tournament Magic? By heading out for a little Elder Dragon Highlander, of course.


I think I’m going to take a little break from Standard for this week. The Morningtide pre-release is looming nearer, and with that, my thoughts have turned to Elder Dragon Highlander.

I mean, that sentiment makes sense, right? Bear with.

I’m heading to Philly to work for my friend Michael. Yeah, it’s a bit of a trip from Colorado, but the nearest pre-release is Denver, and I just re-experienced their events with the Lorwyn pre-release. It’s not that it was a poor event – but it definitely made me long for the days of huge, continuously-running Sealed deck flights, of trying to play in as many flights as possible just to get as much of the new product as possible. You see, in Germany, we were lucky to get enough people for ONE flight at a pre-release. The first set that came out after I moved there was Champions of Kamigawa, and I believe I played in a pre-release that had sixty people. Sixty! I had come from Odyssey-block pre-releases that had three hundred and some, at least, so this was an enormous shock. I believe that the Ravnica pre-release I attended had almost twenty! Naturally, one of the things I wanted to experience upon my return to the States was the big pre-release.

So I’m heading out to Philly. The missus and I will fly out, and she’ll go spend some time with her mom in New Jersey – meanwhile, I get two entire days of unadulterated Magic.

Now we come to the math part of the opening sentence. Big event means a fair number of judges, even if they’re just level 1s. What’s hot among judges right now? Elder Dragon Highlander. And since everyone seems to be talking about it, it’s got me wanting to try it out.

To be honest, I have played it once before. Back in Germany, one of the guys was getting ready to head back to the States, so we let him pick the format for his last night, and that was what he chose. I built up a fun deck based around Intet, the Dreamer and lots of cards I wouldn’t actually want to pay for. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve kept it up as new sets have come out.

The quick and dirty rules version: 100 cards, of which you can only have one of an individual card. Some people don’t apply that rule to basic lands, but I like to be as close to “Highlander” as possible. (It’s more of a fun thing, really, because I’d probably rather have an Island than a Svyelunite Temple in most cases, but when else am I going to use it?) Each deck starts with a General, a Legendary beast around which the deck is built, and the deck can only include cards of the same color as the General. The General starts play in the Removed From Game zone, and can be played from there for his mana cost, plus two for each time you’ve played him previously because you can RFG him again rather than put him in your graveyard. Players play in multiplayer fashion, with each person starting at 200 divided by the number of players at the table. If anyone takes 21 points of damage from a single General, they lose.


I believe that Elder Dragon Highlander is a great choice for budget players. To start off with, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have a playset of that high-priced rare, because you can only play one in your deck. Also, most players should be able to use their existing card pool to build something playable. And when it comes to Generals, it’s ALWAYS possible to find a worthy candidate in amongst the dollar rares. I’m going to focus today on a pair that has some Tribal impact, but I’m hoping to revisit this topic. I mean, there are a TON of dollar-rare Legends. They deserve some EDH love too.

While you can make strong decks from single-colored Legends, I prefer to try to find multicolor ones just so I can get some variety in the cards I have available to me. So let’s put these criteria into Star City’s hot little search engine and see what we come up with.

I Sygged When I Shoulda … uh … Sagged

Sygg, River Guide ($2.50) is a great place to start. He’s cheap in mana cost as well, which means he has a chance to impact the game immediately. He’s synergistic with a tribe that’s been around since the beginning of Magic, and his protection ability can spawn an entire deck idea.

The starting point of the deck should be the critters. With this being multiplayer, you probably won’t want to come blazing out the gates – you’ll want to be a little more subtle. It’s okay to use Merfolk with bigger casting costs and abilities that will impact the game, like Harpoon Sniper or Wellgabber Apothecary. The flip side, of course, is that you’ll want to be able to force through a bunch of damage eventually, since you can’t rely on Sygg to kill anyone on his own. So it seems like a mix is in order. (Where I suggest cheap rares, I’ll list the cost here on Star City.)

Ambassador Laquatus ($2.50)
Benthic Explorers
Blockade Runner
Coral Trickster
Drowner of Secrets
Empress Galina (a Merfolk AND steals Generals)
Galina’s Knight
Harpoon Sniper
Inkfathom Divers
Lord of Atlantis (to pump the troops)
Merfolk Looter
Merrow Harbinger
Merrow Reejerey (to pump the troops)
Reef Shaman (to give Islands to your opponent)
Riptide Pilferer
Rootwater Hunter
Saprazzan Heir ($1.50)
Saprazzan Outrigger
Sea Scryer
Silvergill Adept
Silvergill Douser
Streambed Aquitects
Tidal Courier
Tidewater Mystic
Wanderwine Prophets ($1.50)
Waterfront Bouncer
Wellgabber Apothecary

The addition of Ambassador Laquatus and Drowner of Secrets gives you a possible secondary win condition if you can’t get the Islandwalking online.

In addition, you’ll want to protect yourself from this deck’s obvious nemesis: mass removal. As you’re in Blue, you’ll have access to countermagic, but in this environment, it’s not necessary to overdo it – your opponents are Highlander as well, so they’ll have to have packed multiple board sweepers to get the effect of four Wraths, and they’ll need to find one AND fight it through multiple people at your table. The countermagic is really a last resort.

Power Sink
Swift Silence ($1.00)

You’ll also want card-drawing to refuel just in case you do end up losing the whole school, as well as some spot removal for pesky Generals. We can stick with the “protect what’s mine” theme of Sygg while we’re picking out our utility cards.

Akroma’s Blessing
Chromatic Armor
Cloud Cover ($1.00)
Energy Arc
Merrow Commerce (we have a number of Merfolk with tapping abilities)
Mother of Runes
Prismatic Boon
Reparations ($1.00)
Stand / Deliver
Summon the School (we can potentially make a LOT of tokens)
Swords to Plowshares
Touch of Invisibility
Treasure Trove (reusable card drawing is king in EDH)

Decks traditionally run around forty land, and a handful of mana artifacts in the appropriate colors.

Azorius Signet
Prismatic Lens
Seashell Cameo
Skycloud Egg

Add 39 lands and shake. You can just use basic Islands and Plains if you want (I’d start with 26 Islands and 13 Plains and go from there), but any of the double-color lands like Coastal Tower or Azorius Chancery will certainly be well-received.

An Ocean of Notions

Another great cheap General with a potentially-abusable ability is Horde of Notions ($1.00). Because you can reliably either keep him in play or get him BACK into play, his ability to re-use Elemental cards in your graveyard gives a never-ending supply of answers, which is nothing to sneeze at in multiplayer. The problem is: How do you reliably CAST him (and use his ability) without using expensive rare lands?

Back in the Invasion days, I played a lot of Domain, so I know first-hand that Green has a ton of basic land fetchers. If we make the deck base-Green and use those fetchers, we should still be able to play any card we want – plus get access to some great Green Elementals at the same time.

Edge of Autumn
Evolution Charm
Explosive Vegetation
Far Wanderings
Gaea’s Balance
Journey of Discovery
Kodama’s Reach
Lay of the Land
Primal Growth
Rampant Growth
Reap and Sow
Rites of Spring
Search for Tomorrow
Untamed Wilds

New Frontiers ($1.00) is a card I’m still up in the air about. Clearly if you play in a group that tries to stick to the Highlander format, even when it comes to basic land, New Frontiers will be very one-sided for you, and draw you quite a bit of unwanted attention. On the other hand, if you’re running in a group with a number of other budget players, New Frontiers will be “fair,” but everyone in the game will get a chance to use it before you. I think ultimately it will be left by the wayside.

The second set of cards to look at will be the Elemental cards that we can potentially reuse out of the graveyard. The Evoke creatures from Lorwyn are a good place to start, but really ANY Elemental with a comes-into-play ability is fair game, as well as any Elemental spells.

Consuming Bonfire
Crib Swap
Cytoplast Root-Kin ($2.00)
Flame-Kin Zealot
Flamekin Harbinger
Goretusk Firebeast
Ingot Chewer
Inner-Flame Acolyte
Magmasaur ($1.00)
Nameless Inversion
Silverglade Elemental

We’ve gone heavily into Red as our second color, and we can use that to help flesh out the rest of the cards in the deck. Other Elementals are an easy pick, and we can fill the rest out with some utility cards – removal, card-drawing, and good land-fetching creatures.

Air Elemental
Deepfire Elemental
Greater Stone Spirit
Grinning Ignus
Inner-Flame Igniter
Kjeldoran Frostbeast
Skizzik Surger
Soulbright Flamekin
Sulfur Elemental
Thundercloud Elemental
Wilderness Elemental

Eternal Witness
Quirion Elves
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Yavimaya Elder

Fire / Ice
Rolling Thunder
Savage Twister

Legacy Weapon ($1.00)

Legacy Weapon is too good NOT to include. You should be able to activate it just as often as you can Horde of Notions, so getting the sheer and utter removal of something at that price should be worth including.

The artifact and land base is also focused around fetching out basic lands for use with the Horde.

Braidwood Sextant
Journeyer’s Kite ($1.00)
Wanderer’s Twig
Wayfarer’s Bauble

Crystal Quarry ($3.00)
Ghost Quarter
Terminal Moraine
Terrain Generator
Terramorphic Expanse

15 Forest
12 Mountain
4 Island
2 Swamp
2 Plains

Respect Yer Elders

I hope that this gives everyone the desire to try out Elder Dragon Highlander. It’s a far stretch from tournament Magic, and it mandates that you go out and find a group of like-minded people to sit around a kitchen table and play. Go ahead, look through your binders, see if you can find a General that you like, and give it a shot. And if anyone would like to suggest Generals for the next installment, feel free to sound off in the forums.

Until next time!