Last updated on May 15, 2023
The Canadian Highlander format has been a mainstay of Magic since its explosion outside of Canada in recent years. But the small, well-nurtured format has actually been a part of the fabric of the game for the past two decades.
A format with unique tidbits, a very rich community, and some of the most unique gameplay within the whole of MTG, Canadian Highlander has won over the hearts of many players who are looking for a unique competitive experience. The skill ceiling is higher than any other constructed format, but the floor is as low as you’re able to go.
It’s a format about deckbuilding prowess and creativity, taking the proverbial leaves from the books of formats such as Legacy, Vintage, Commander, and Cube to create the premier Magic experience.
All of this sounds very demanding and technical, but not to fear! I’m gonna help you find your feet and start exploring the Canadian Highlander format. Let’s get started!
What is Canadian Highlander in Magic: the Gathering?
Black Lotus | Illustration by Christopher Rush
Canadian Highlander is a singleton format, similar to Commander, that plays with 100 card decks, and a unique points-based system.
You start at 20 life, which makes it comparable to Vintage. The format is very intricate and competitive, and is often about efficiency, redundancy, and optimization. Singleton is a pretty hardcore restriction for a competitive deck, which makes all three a challenge.
However, Canadian Highlander shares a ban list with Vintage excluding Lurrus of the Dream-Den, which means that cards like the infamous Black Lotus (and its other Power 9 friends), Library of Alexandria, and Mind Twist are all legal in this format. With a small catch.
The Canadian Highlander Points List
Each deck is allocated ten points to use to “buy” cards off of the points list, which allows the format to balance powerful cards. The points list has a range of cards, from Vintage All Stars to Legacy Sweethearts, to the exiles of formats like Modern and Pioneer.
So, for example, you could have Time Vault (worth 7 points) and Tinker (worth 3 points) in your deck, but that’s it. Or you could opt for 10 single-point cards, like Balance or Crop Rotation. This makes for interesting deckbuilding with weird and unique limitations, with a lot of power.
It also means that not every deck needs to be running a full set of Power Nine either, with cards like Dig Through Time and Treasure Cruise being highly accessible cards. The format has an endless list of variations and possibilities with each card and each archetype!
The points list can hugely be split into three categories: efficient tutors (a la Demonic Tutor), fast mana (a la Mana Crypt), and super powerful cards (a la Time Vault).
- Crop Rotation
- Dig Through Time
- Imperial Seal
- Library of Alexandria
- Mana Drain
- Mana Vault
- Merchant Scroll
- Mind Twist
- Price of Progress
- Summoner's Pact
- Tainted Pact
- Tolarian Academy
- Transmute Artifact
- Treasure Cruise
- True-Name Nemesis
- Underworld Breach
- Wishclaw Talisman
- Yawgmoth's Will
- Mox Emerald
- Mox Jet
- Mox Pearl
- Mox Ruby
- Mox Sapphire
- Natural Order
- Protean Hulk
- Strip Mine
As I already mentioned, Canadian Highlander shares a ban list with Vintage other than one card. Take a look:
- Ante cards
- Conspiracy cards
- Cards depicting racism and cultural insensitivity
- Dexterity cards
- Silver-bordered cards
- Sub-game cards
The infamous Lurrus of the Dream-Den is, however, legal. This is because the companion mechanic doesn’t work in Canadian Highlander since there are no sideboards in the format. This means that, unlike in Commander, Lutri, the Spellchaser is basically just a dual-caster mage and not exceptionally powerful.
Canadian Highlander Deck Building Tips
Thassa's Oracle | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
So let’s say you want to start building your own Canadian Highlander Deck. Where do you start? Well, there are a few ways that you can put your own lists together. The first way would be to copy an existing deck list. There’s plenty of resources out there for finding decks from other players at various levels of competitiveness.
If you want to pilot a deck of your own creation, then there’s a few tips that you can use to make the process easier. If you want to build around a certain tribe or theme, sifting through the cards of that theme on Scryfall will give you a solid base of cards to work with. From there, look for supporting spells and don’t forget to look at the points list for cards to include from there as well.
On the other side of the coin, you can start with the points list and build around cards from the list. For example, you could pick Thassa's Oracle, Tainted Pact and Imperial Seal as a few cards off the points list, and build around that combo.
Another tip that might save you some money is to build and test the deck on Magic Online. Given that a lot of the cards in the format are incredibly expensive in paper, it might not be reasonable to purchase a deck outright. Luckily the online versions of some of the most expensive cards are very cheap, and you can test your decks with a wider community of players.
If you’re in the first camp, then let’s look at a few different examples of Canadian Highlander decks.
Canadian Highlander Decks
Lutri, the Spellchaser | Illustration by Lie Setiawan
There are endless possibilities when it comes to building a Canadian Highlander deck. You can play pretty much whatever kind of deck you want, and more than likely, no deck will look exactly like yours. But if you’re looking for some of the best decks out there, then here’s a few samples of some of the top competitive decks in the format.
Death and Taxes
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben | Illustration by Jana Schirmer & Johannes Voss
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar
Archon of Emeria
Brave the Elements
Cave of the Frost Dragon
Cavern of Souls
Champion of the Parish
City of Traitors
Eiganjo, Seat of the Empire
Field of Ruin
Fight as One
Flagstones of Trokair
Giver of Runes
Kytheon, Hero of Akros
March of Otherworldly Light
Mother of Runes
Path to Exile
Ranger-Captain of Eos
Ravages of War
Recruiter of the Guard
Soldier of the Pantheon
Spirit of the Labyrinth
Swords to Plowshares
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Usher of the Fallen
White Plume Adventurer
Death and Taxes is a mono white deck that has one goal: beat down your opponent with little creatures, while using “tax” effects to pressure their resources. It’s a pretty straight forward game plan, but it has quite a bit of nuance as well. Between knowing which spells and effects to use at what time, or knowing when to flood the board to push for damage is all a part of piloting this deck.
4C Thassa’s Oracle
Jace, the Mind Sculptor | Illustration by Jason Chan
City of Brass
Force of Negation
Force of Will
Inquisition of Kozilek
Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
Muddle the Mixture
Oko, Thief of Crowns
Path to Exile
Sensei's Divining Top
Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
Solve the Equation
Swords to Plowshares
Teferi, Time Raveler
Triumph of Saint Katherine
Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath
Wall of Blossoms
Wall of Omens
4 Color Thassa’s Oracle is a combo / control deck. It leverages some powerful effects to find Thassa's Oracle and Tainted Pact to win the game on the spot. It sports plenty of card draw and counterspells to aid in its plan.
Red Deck Wins
Soul-Scar Mage | Illustration by Steve Argyle
Dragon's Rage Channeler
Eidolon of the Great Revel
Falkenrath Pit Fighter
Feldon, Ronom Excavator
Figure of Destiny
Kumano Faces Kakkazan
Pillar of Flame
Play with Fire
Price of Progress
Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer
Robber of the Rich
Seal of Fire
Skewer the Critics
Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance
Good ol’ Red Deck wins is your typical red aggro deck. It has an army of tiny, hasty creatures, and a boatload of burn spells to push those last few points of damage. This deck is probably one of the more beginner friendly strategies out there for the first time Canadian Highlander player and arguably one of the cheapest.
What’s the Difference Between Commander and Canadian Highlander?
There are a few key differences between EDH and Canadian Highlander. Yes, both formats are singleton 100 card formats, but that’s where the similarities end.
- Canadian Highlander decks don’t have a commander.
- Canadian Highlander starts at 20 life, where EDH starts at 40 life.
- Canadian Highlander is a 1v1 format, where EDH is multiplayer
- EDH is a more social and casual format. Canadian Highlander can be very competitive and cutthroat.
These are some of the main differences, but honestly, Canadian Highlander still has the same high variance in gameplay that Commander offers, while keeping the feeling of a more competitive eternal format, such as Modern, Legacy and Vintage. So, if you enjoy a hybrid of the two formats, then Canadian Highlander might be the format for you!
Canadian Highlander Resources
Village Cannibals | Illustration by Bud Cook
There are a few key resources for anyone looking to explore the world of Canadian Highlander, so here’s a few to get you started.
Canadian Highlander, at face value, seems like a very inaccessible format to get into, but it’s quite the contrary! With a community wanting to get as many people as possible involved, the worldwide Canadian Highlander community is booming, with a very popular Discord server.
The Discord server is a great place to find MTGO games and interact with people! All the information and guidance you need is available within the community, which is very welcoming and can help you find the way to play the format that’s best for you. The format is completely community-driven and is left to its own devices (even though some WotC members play it), which just means that it’s a very tightly knit community.
There are weekly tournaments on the server organized by the Tenth Point. They’re free to enter, and they’re a fun way to get into the format. I took part in one blindly when I started out and I had a lot of fun with it. It also allows you to experiment with things in your deck for free, in a competitive environment.
If you’re looking for Canadian Highlander content, I’ve got a few suggestions for you. Loading Ready Run sometimes plays Canadian Highlander and it’s honestly an entertaining watch, whilst being also educational. Loading Ready Run are great if you want to learn the many nuances of Magic – some of the best talents of the game are on the channel.
Benjamin Wheeler of LRR is honestly one of the best people to watch if you want to see top-level Canadian Highlander play. Nobody that I’ve seen knows the format better than him and watching him play has really helped me improve.
PleasantKenobi’s video with Ben Wheeler is very good for those who want to get into the format from an outside perspective. It teaches a lot and gives a taste of the format (explicit language warning for the uninitiated on PK’s content). Tolarian Community College’s video talking about the format is great, too. Both are really good at giving an actual feel for what the format will be like to play!
Finally, Jeremy White’s twitter is a good place for Canadian Highlander content. As one of the best players and most involved players within the format, he’s a good resource for things about the format!
Training Grounds | Illustration by James Ryman
That’s Canadian Highlander! Thanks for joining me, and I hope you had a good time learning about one of Magic’s most exciting formats.
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