HIGHLANDER AND BANS – How do we make the best format even better?

Bildschirmfoto 2018-02-25 um 8.12.11 PM

As I’ve stated many times before, I believe Highlander is the best Magic the Gathering format out there. The sheer amount of possibilities in deck building and game situations and the fact that it is very competitive at the same time still amaze me after years of playing. I will never stop.

Intense discussions about the latest cards banned by the council of Highlander, Mystical Tutor for example have made me think. And I believe it’s about time to look at where Highlander is at and how we as a community can make it even stronger as we move forward. And write it down. Therefore I am sharing some of my thoughts, opinions and formulate some possible outlines we could use as a framework for Highlander. I would love to discuss them together.

Because one thing is clear from the discussions in the European Highlander group on Facebook: A lot of people all over Europe (and beyond) care about Highlander in 2018. In my personal opinion the format is as healthy as ever. The problem: We have never defined what healthy means.

As a community we have never defined what stats to use for our arguments. We have never defined how to collect those stats. We have never defined what scenario would warrant the ban of a card. We have never defined how carefully we should ban or unban and how often. To be quite frank: We have never written down, what Highlander exactly is and should be. Yet it seems like there’s a common understanding. But as it’s stated nowhere not everyone shares it all the time.

Hence we have created a situation where I am as happy as can be with the current meta and variety of competitive decks, while at the same time a member of the council might feel that banning 5 cards from one single deck at once is necessary. As there is no framework for us to look at to argue who is right and who is wrong the discussions that ensue are endless.

There are 7 questions I would like to answer to see how the community feels about the answers.
1) What is the perfect state of Highlander as a Magic format?
2) What power level of a single card warrants a ban?
3) What power level of a deck(type) warrants the banning of cards in it to weaken it?
4) What power level of a color warrants the banning of cards to weaken it?
5) What evaluation of the meta game’s direction as a whole would warrant banning cards?
6) What is the general approach to banning decisions?
7) What is the process of deciding on bans between the council and the community?

1) What is the perfect state of Highlander as a Magic format?
Highlander is a 100 card singleton format. It aims to allow the greatest possible variety of game states, play situations and deck type variety while also being competitive. As an eternal format the ban list should be kept as short as possible to allow players the experience of playing strong cards from all eras of Magic. In a perfect Highlander world all deck strategies are competitive options: Aggro, Combo, Midrange, Aggro-Control, Ramp, Control-Decks and Permission Decks. Equally all color combinations from 1- to 5-color decks – maybe even 0-color – should be valid and there should be financially affordable, competitive deck options.

2) What power level of a single card in a vacuum warrants a ban?
To be banned from Highlander for its power level in a vacuum a card must create random wins, too great of speed-or card-advantage at too little cost (making it likely to resolve) or needed set up. Even in a 100-card singleton format this would mean drawing it at any point of the game would create an advantage the opponent likely cannot match. Strip Mine is a card that can create random wins by destroying key land at any time without many ways to stop it. Ancestral Recall for example gives the player who resolves it 3 extra cards for a single mana at instant speed. Cards like Black Lotus, Sol Ring etc. are colorless and create absurd speed advantages by generating a lot of mana immediately. Artifacts like Umezawa’s Jitte or Skullclamp are colorless and can create vast immediate advantage for little investment. Cards that are on the edge are those that while doing very powerful things require set up, come with a cost, are not way more powerful than other powerful spells and are – due to the singleton nature of Highlander – not as likely to resolve or as overpowered at all times (Natural Order, Treasure Cruise) or can be beat by other strategies.

3) What power level of a DECK(TYPE) warrants the banning of cards to weaken it?
To warrant bans to weaken a deck(type) the deck has to win at an unnaturally high rate, repeatedly win large tournaments and be omnipresent and played by many players in a majority of communities making other deck types unattractive by creating too many unfavorable matchups and creating a broad disapproval within the player base. A ban then should try to hurt the deck’s performance while leaving as many other decks as possible untouched.

4) What power level of a COLOR warrants the banning of cards to weaken it?
To warrant bans of cards from a certain color to weaken it the color must be omnipresent across most decks. Winning decks of large tournaments must nearly be forced to include the color to remain competitive. If there are several successful strategies that do not utilize the color there should not be bans. Also the color blue is the spoiled color of Magic and we should not try changing this basic element of Magic unless it becomes completely overwhelming.

5) What EVALUATION OF THE META GAME’s direction as a whole would warrant banning cards?
As long as Highlander remains a small format with steady tournament numbers ranging between 4 and 100 participants, very different skill levels and deck tastes of players, communities all over Europe, all paired with endless amounts of possible deck configurations nobody can really grasp the meta as a whole or determine what a ban would do in the future. Factors like financial cost, play skill and competitive nature of regions hang on too few people and are very hard to grasp in their entirety. Therefore decisions that are aimed at the format as a whole of this sort (example: ban fetch lands, ban backbones of the format like Blood Moon or Back to Basics, change fundamental rules etc.) should be avoided. As a last resort option (NUCLEAR OPTION) it would have to be agreed on by a large majority within the community and caused by severe disapproval of the meta game’s development by the player base.

6) What is the general approach to banning decisions?
No banning or unbanning decisions should be made that risk drastically reducing competitive deck options for the player base to chose from. As long as the Highlander community is relatively small compared to other formats all banning decisions must first and foremost take into account the satisfaction of the community with the current meta-game state. All reasoning for a ban must be based on the largest tournament (many rounds) result data available, factual win-ratios of decks and try to ignore solely local phenomena as long as they are not experienced by a majority of other communities as well. Decisions should also take into account different skillsets of players who pick up decks as Highlander welcomes everyone from highly competitive to casual players. This means even an overly good deck might not be a problem if no one plays it or if it is just the deck of the hour picked up by a majority of the highly competitive players in an area or time frame.

7) What is the process of deciding on bans between the council and the community?
The Highlander Council consists of chosen members from sizable communities to give a condensed voice to those communities and serve as source of wisdom and guidance with the last word on decisions regarding the Highlander ban list and rules. Members of the council must base their reasoning on the statutes of Highlander and always look to serve the satisfaction of the community as whole. A decision on bans is made twice a year and the process I is as follows: No more than 2 cards each can be banned or unbanned during each season. The only exception is the “nuclear option“ as described in statute 5 which can warrant a third card/rules change/card category. Let’s hope we never get there.

The process is supervised by the council. A voting consists of 1 vote for each council member and the public counts as 50%. The weight of the public vote cannot exceed the weight of the council vote. Therefore 8 council votes and 200 public votes will still lead to an 8 to 8 vote ratio between council and public with all votes being counted in percentage.
Step 1: After a prior week of public discussion the European Highlander Community via public Facebook poll and the council via private poll are asked wether bans are currently needed. If a single majority asks for bans the council proceeds with step 3.
Step 2: After the same prior week of public discussion the European Highlander Community via public Facebook poll and the council via private poll are asked wether unbans are currently needed. If a single majority asks for unbans the council proceeds with step 3.
Step 3: The Council presents a list of up to 6 cards each to be banned or unbanned.
Step 4: A voting ranks the cards to determine which 2 cards should be voted on to be banned or unbanned.
Step 5: There is a yes/no voting to determine wether final 1–4 cards should be banned or unbanned by single majority.

Let me know what you think and always play more Highlander. Cheers.