PWP Invitational and Highlander-96

For the last four years, we've hosted an invitational tournament sometime after the 93/94 season has passed. The eight top rated players in the PWP-standings are invited to a showdown to determine who's the true Master of old Magic cards.
Got nine problems but Power ain't one
As most of us have some combination of work and family to attend to, it is customary to pick a date and place that works for the majority, and offer passdown if any players might not make it. Of the 122 players who collected points last year, these eight will gather to battle:

Kalle "Egget" Nord (1)
Tommy "Artelas" Aaen (3)
Markus "KungMarkus" Guldbrandsson (4)
Mikael "Mällroth" Mällroth (5)
Magnus "Mg" de Laval (6)
Erik "Sehl" Larsson (8)
Joakim "Jocke" Almelund (9)
Andreas "JummJumm" Leo (10)

Last year's invitational winner and 2nd ranked player Elof declined to play this year but will join as a spectator (and pass down his invite). 7th ranked Thomas Nilson unfortunately couldn't make it, as he is currently in New Zealand.

The most striking thing with this "Pimpvitational" tournament is probably the formats. It changes every year to offer a twist on the more familiar mid-90s Magic variants. A couple of months before the tournament takes place, the players brainstorm and vote.

The runner-up format this year was Time Capsule, a format where you played with the standard 93/94 rule set, but you had access to a playset of a single card from expansions from Fallen Empires up to Urza's Destiny that never had been restricted in contemporary Vintage. This removed some of the most obnoxious interactions (like Voltaic Key + Time Vault, Crop Rotation into LoA, or plain old Necropotence). I was tinkering with that format a bit, and came up with Primal Order as my card of choice. I figured that a lot of players would go for multicolored decks with Force of Will, Survival of the Fittest or similar, and monogreen tempo with the Order looked well positioned against those strategies.
Humble disrespect.
But that would never be. Instead we settled on a futuristic one-off format, Highlander-96. This is our arena:
  • Legal sets: ABU (aka "The Gathering"), Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, Homelands, Alliances.
  • Restricted cards: Everything except basic lands.
  • Banned cards: Ancestral Recall, Black Lotus, Library of Alexandria, Mind Twist and cards that use the Ante mechanic.
  • Deck construction rules: At least 60 main deck cards, at most 15 sideboard cards. Each deck must play at least five different cards from each set (excluding basic lands). At least three cards from each set must be played in the main deck. Legal reprints count towards the first set they were printed in (e.g. Icy Manipulator from Ice Age still counts as an ABU card, as it was first printed in ABU)
Hitting the books like it's 1996.
So step one was to build a baseline goodstuff deck, just to check the powerlevel of the format. My first pile looked something like this:
I knew that the deck I eventually picked should be able to beat this deck in addition to having a solid goldfish. If my decks couldn't beat this, I should probably focus on tuning this pile instead.

My first plan was to build RG Ponza, halting the opponent with land destruction and playing big game. Orgg and stuff. Couldn't get the mana to work that well though. Orcish Squatters and Jokulhaups are awesome cards, but I couldn't reliably cast them.
Digging for gold.
I went on looking at combo decks. Storm Cauldron is a sweet combo with Fastbond (the original reason Fastbond got restricted). Elder Druid gave me unlimited turns with Time Vault. Solidevi Digger and Browse gave unlimited turns with Time Walk, and the Digger also works great with Demonic Consultation (which can help you exile your library). Thought Lash and Field of Dreams helps you always draw the right card, and then exile your library once the combo is assembled. There are a few other more fringe combos introduced in the format, but these looked like the more viable ones (apart from the existing ones in standard 93/94).

But I couldn't really make it work. The decks were clunky by design and the opening hands were far too random. I had to look at it from another angle. How can I make it suck less?
Pictured: Good cards.
So instead of trying to maximize impact of good cards, I looked through the lens of minimizing the impact of bad cards. Every decklist started with 3 cards each from the different expansions, and then built on those 24 cards.

What's the best thing you can do with Fallen Empires? Hymn, Pump Knights, and WW cards probably. Ring of Renewal is clearly playable, Aeolipile mostly makes the cut, and worst case we could fill the slots with "sac-lands".
Decent substitute for a Swamp.
Homelands? Well, every single deck in the format will probably play Serrated Arrows. That makes weenie strategies slightly worse. Ihsan's Shade, Autumn Willow and Eron the Relentless are playable, and Primal Order is probably even good. You have a few red one-drops that could work for sligh, and some decent removal (e.g. Retribution, Roots, Broken Visage), and Merchant Scroll is probably good enough for control decks. Death Speakers is a great addition to WW. But this is a ghastly set. Vintage aficionado IslandSwamp actually posted a set review of Homelands at MtgGoldfish last week. Check it out if you're in doubt.

Anyway, from this point of view, control looked mediocre at best. Tempo, midrange and aggro seemed like the solid choices. Maybe we don't even need to use all the best cards and a majority of the restricted list. Is a one- or two-colored deck the answer?

I'm not sure what to expect this Saturday. I know that the other seven players battling are masterful players and deck builders. And I know that I myself have a few ticks I can hardly ignore. If Juzam is legal, it's a good bet I'll play Juzam. If I get the chance to cast Jester's Cap, I'll probably do that as well. And I'll most certainly play a few random cards mostly because I like the art.

I'll keep the pile a secret for now. Next week, we'll take a dive into the deck lists and congratulate the 2016 PWP champion.


  1. Hej, you got any ideas for a commander deck that restricts itself to the legal sets as mentioned above and also the regular cmdr ban list? Any insight would be appreciated.


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