Hochstapler – Bavarian Highlander
- Andreas Reling
Highlander might be the most popular way to build casual decks and enjoy Magic in a non-tournament environment. There are many ways to play Highlander and while Elder Dragon Highlander (AKA Commander) might be the most popular by far, there are many more ways to build singleton decks and have fun at the kitchen or bar table. Andifeated is here to show you a bavarian variant of Highlander – or as they call it in southern Germany “Hochstapler”.
What is Highlander?
Let's set the stage first. The name Highlander refers to the fantasy cult film Highlander released in 1986. In the film, an age-old battle between immortal warriors is going on until one is left standing, who has acquired the powers of every defeated competitor in order to gain the power necessary to rule the world. The films tagline “There can be only one” describes the rules of this way to play Magic very fittingly:
- A Highlander Deck may only contain one copy of any card that isn't a basic land card (and cards that specify you can have multiples, like Relentless Rats).
Besides from that, the rules vary depending on local playgroups, traditions and more.
The intention is, that by having to play many cards (most variants have a 100-card minimum) and only allowing a single copy of each card the games will go longer and not end by the same broken combination or synergy of cards every time you play the deck. This creates a more relaxed, balanced and diversified Metagame.
There are many known ways to play Highlander out there, like Commander, where a legendary Creature starts as your General in the Command Zone and can be cast in every game, regardless of your draw, or Canadian Highlander, where you are allowed to play with cards that are forbidden under most rule sets but where you can spend so-called “deckbuilding points” in order to have some broken cards of the power 9 family in your deck. You may have also heard of Brawl, a new singleton format where you play essentially Commander, but with a 60-card minimum and standard legal cards only.
But today, I want to tell you about a Highlander variant you may not have heard of yet and one that I consider most fun. (at least for me!)
Hochstapler, Bavarian Highlander
In southern Germany, we have found our own way to enjoy singleton Magic Games at the local store, pub, or between rounds at tournaments. The word Hochstapler is German and means high pile. A “Hochstapler Deck” follows the following rules of deckbuilding:
- Decks may contain only one copy of any card that isn't a basic land card
- Decks have a minimum card size of 150 multiplied by the number of different color identities on cards in the deck
- Cards with golden or silver borders are legal as long as the deck is in opaque sleeves
Asides from those deckbuilding restrictions, there are a number of complicated rules that increase the fun and keep the format fair:
- The more cards in your deck the better!
- Games start with a life total of 40
- Lands can't be destroyed or exiled unless they have non-mana abilities
- If an effect forces an opponent to discard cards from their hand they don't have to discard cards (this does not apply for symmetrical effects that draw cards as well, like Wheel of Fortune)
- Spells can't be countered
- If a Spell or Ability causes an opponent to lose life or deals damage to them, prevent that damage if it can't be redirected to a planeswalker
- Players can't search libraries
- Players may bring a so-called "fetchboard” which is a deckbox or binder that contains lands with basic land types in order to search them with cards like Rampant Growth or Polluted Delta
- Players may take one free Mulligan and then proceed with the Vancouver Mulligan
- On the 3rd and 4th turn of the game players may reveal cards from the top of their library until they reveal a basic land card and put that card into their hand instead of drawing a random card, if they have no land cards in hand
- Players can't take more than two turns in a row (to prevent Timewarp and Eternal Witness Combos for example and to nerf Time Stretch)
As with many casual formats, who you as and which city you're in will lend itself to different rules. Players in Munich, for example, think that some things shouldn't be forbidden, while other players in Rosenheim feel the need to ban something like Mindslaver. Much like the pirate's code, you should think of these more as guidelines for fun Magic than rules that you absolutely must follow.
That's a Lot of Rules - Why is That?
The Format was created in order to have long and fun games, where games don't end abruptly and players have time to develop their mana in order to cast all sweet spells that are not powerful enough for other formats and end up useless in collections otherwise.
In Hochstapler, you can play almost all cards that do sweet things!
The inventors of the format decided that some of the mechanics in magic, that frustrate beginners the most, shall be excluded from the game. After all, which Wizard can stand it if his Shivan Dragon gets interrupted by a wicked Counterspell?
Also, how much fun is it if I die to an enormously big Fireball while I haven't cast all the sweet Fatties sitting in my hand yet?
I know that to different people, different strategies and spells are fun, but let's consider the Hochstapler rules a gentlemen's agreement between fine men that just want to cast big creatures and other jank of all colors and sorts.
Please note, that there is no official banned list but you really can ban a lot of cards in your local playgroup. Of course, you could just agree to play cards like Enter the Infinite, Traumatize or even broken cards that force you to play for ante like Contract from Below if that's fun to your playgroup but we Bavarian men of culture suggest you keep it fair and fun. We do have a growing list of cards that we ban from the format and every playgroup should decide for themselves what's fun to them and with every game you play, you learn more about what's cool and what shouldn't be allowed.
Seriously, this is Timmy, Power Gamer's playground and that silver-bordered card is a staple in each green Hochstapler!
I've played a lot of Hochstapler in my years and built several different Decks. The best effects are Mana fixing like Kodama's Reach, or all sorts of Mana rocks like Dimir Signet because they allow you to play just everything else that comes to mind.
Of course, Battlefields really tend to get messy and out of hand, so bring all Wrath of God-like Spells you can find!
With access to so much mana and resources make sure to cast the most impactful creatures you can summon! All those colorful Elder Dragons and other legendaries that keep rotting in your Binder or crap-rare Box are the perfect fits to your Hochstapler deck.
With those expensive and powerful creatures, cheap removal like Swords to Plowshares is, of course, essential as well. But since most of those creatures come with powerful effects, you don't want to just remove them from the battlefield, Mind Control and other effects that steal creatures are at a premium in this clunky environment where tempo plays are not as popular as you may be used to.
Enchant your opponents Dragon in order to remove it and put the pressure on your opponent but be aware that cards like Disenchant and Naturalize are insanely powerful since they not only disrupt mana fixing Signets but also are the best way to deal with a lot of Enchantments like Control Magic, Treachery and others which are to be found in most Decks that have access to blue mana.
The Place to Put All Your Unused but Cool Cards in Your Collection
With an Hochstapler Deck, you will have a place to put all those useless rares and cards you receive from Limited tournaments, all fancy promo cards and stuff that wouldn't make your tournament decks and keep lying around useless until you sell them. For years, I tried to trade and sell all my cards I didn't need for tournament decks. Only a few cards I received through limited play, like FNMs, actually mattered to me but with my Hochstapler deck I just love to receive random promo foils at FNM or trade some bulk rares for new dragons and even after a draft I can often find a card draw spell, Naturalize effects or mana fixing card I didn't have in my Hochstapler before. This makes collecting Magic cards and participating in tournaments much more fun. Also, I have a use for all my sleeves that are not tournament legal anymore because it just doesn't matter how your sleeves look in this format where decks are often thousands of cards big and no tournament rules apply.
I always use the same sleeves and if they are done for tournament play I just put them in my Highlander Box and put my new acquisitions in them. If you don't always use the same sleeves that's no problem at all, you could as well use different sleeves of all kinds because nobody can memorize which cards are in which sleeves in a pile that's several thousands of cards big. The Green-Black Rock Hochstapler my boss has built over the years is getting to the point where it doesn’t fit into one of those 4000-card-holding cartons he uses as a DECKBOX for example. Nobody had a problem that his deck was sleeved in all sorts of different used sleeves.
I just recently started to build a Hochstapler deck for myself again after focusing on tournament formats for the last few years, which involved getting rid of all my casual decks.
I had a blue-black Control Highlander with all removal, card draw, and mind controls, a white-black Highlander with all Planeswalkers, Disenchants and Wrath of Gods and even a five-colored Deck with all sweet Legends I could find.
This time I'm building a green-blue based deck with all good mana ramp and fixing, all the blue draw spells while also splashing all the sweet multicolor creatures in the other three colors.
Nowadays, it's just under 1000 cards and fits in one of these sweet Boxes:
You might think that sounds sweet and all, but how do I find opponents that have such a deck to play with them? You don't even need to! Just take a pile of your Highlander and play against them, there are no important cards to a deck's strategy and since the decks are so big, you can easily draw from the same deck or split a deck into two of them.
Hochstapler or Bavarian Highlander is a lot of fun and if you have enough time and cards lying around, try to build one yourself, even the process of creating one is a satisfying experience!
Tell me in the comments which variants of Highlander are played in your local area and if you have heard of other fancy singleton formats.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.