By Mick Cipra
We’ve been amongst you, unknown, moving silently through the centuries until something something something, I don’t know I don’t have internet access right now, TIME OF THE GATHERING!
I love alternate formats and my favorite alternate format for Star Wars: The Card Game is Highlander. When I was in 9th grade my older cousin told me about these dudes who couldn’t die unless they got their head chopped off and that’s why they all carry around swords. Oh, and lightning bolts. It sounded wild so I jumped into mid-season four of the TV series. At that time new episodes came on at midnight Sunday so I’d tape them to watch the next day. It turned out that my favorite teacher also watched Highlander, which at the time just blew my mind that teachers watch television show, so I eventually became motivated to wake up extra early Monday morning watch the entire episode and then spoil it for her. Yeah… I was that kid.
Over the years the Highlander franchise has lead to… some disappointment for me, but as a card game format I’m totally in love with it. We held our first Star Wars Highlander tournament last year a month after Worlds and didn’t get around to holding another one until this past weekend. The wait was worth it.
For those not familiar the format is called “Highlander” after the franchise’s famous line “there can be only one”. In Highlander lore when an immortal chops off another immortal’s head, or is close enough to another immortal who unfortunately flyingskateboards into a tripwire or lays their neck down on some train tracks, there’s an electrical storm and the one dude absorbs the other’s power. It is never really explained what this power is, except that its power and more is clearly better than less. Unless you get the dark quickening and then your cup overfloweth with evil and you have to go to some spiritual Scottish bath…. Regardless the “power” cannot be described or quantified. The premise of the first movie is that the number of immortals has dwindled down to only a few remaining and the last man standing will have absorbed the cumulative power of all the immortals who have ever lived and gain “the prize”. It turns out the prize totally sucks—the hero becomes mortal and gets to finally die—so the resolution was disregarded in the TV show. Also, in the TV show new immortals are still being born so attaining “the prize” is really unachievable. Any character in the TV show that says “there can be only one” is a monster who has defined their eternal existence by killing others and getting their lightning bolt high, or when the hero is tired of the bad guy’s yapping and it’s beheadin’ time. For Star Wars: The Card Game, the Highlander format means there can be only one of each objective. But most of you knew that and I just wanted to rant about Highlander for awhile.
As a format Highlander introduces an interesting constraint on Star Wars deckbuilding as most competitive decks will run the majority, if not all, of their objective sets in duplicate. Immediately you’re going to have to go well outside of your comfort zone to fill in the final FIVE objective slots of your favorite deck! Our first Highlander tournament was held last year after Worlds, before the Between the Shadows box dropped. It was a great way to get people to show up during the lull in product release and also drum up excitement for the game instead of everybody just showing up with top 16 decks from Worlds. I saw so many core set ObiWans being played that first tournament – it was glorious. He’s a great unit too! Jedi Mind Trick is even better. Imagine if there were ever a Jedi Mind Trick in an objective set with a resource! That would be nuts.
For this most recent tournament the card pool was much larger (BtS and all of Rogue Squadron) so making sure the deck had a good resource base and worked well together wasn’t nearly the challenge it was the first time around. As much as I love the pilot decks and other crazy combo shenanigans I decided for this tournament to go with efficiency. My deck lists basically read as “LS and DS’s greatest hits”.
Wookie Life Debt
Renegade Squadron Mobilization
A Hero’s Journey
May The Force Be With You
A Deep Commitment
Secret of Yavin IV
All Out Brawl
Behind the Black Sun
Fall of the Jedi
The Emperor’s Web
Counsel of the Sith
Agent of the Emperor
Plan of the Prophetess
The Killing Cold
There were a couple things I wanted to make sure that each deck had: a good resource base, access to Twists, and an ability to control the board. The LS deck was easier to come up with. Between Luke, Yoda, Han and Falcon it already had four oneforone resources along with four great units. Finish off the resource base with a Sulon Sympathizer, Asteroid Base and R2D2, and this deck was able to afford all its heavy hitters while also playing support units and combat tricks in the later turns. Echo Caverns doesn’t count as a resource. The card says it generates a resource, but unless you’re really desperate to play the Falcon, you’ll always save it. Secret of Yavin IV and Falcon gave me access to two Twists, something LS desperately needs, especially in this format.
I also wanted to make sure I had a way to protect the units I did get out on the board, so Secret worked double duty also providing Guardians and Lightsaber Deflection; Qu Rahn gave some more protection; and I figured 40% of the time I’d be lucky enough to have Wookie Life Debt out and Chewbacca, who is just disgusting when he has protect. Board control would be covered by Han and Luke shooting everything, Yoda holding the force, Obi-Wan and Renegade Squadron focusing down the opponent’s board and Echo Caverns causing your opponent a headache. Of course, you’re not going to get all of these things to happen in a single game. Another thing that is interesting in Highlander is which flavor of the deck will show up during any particular match.
DS was harder to come up with than LS. I was tempted to run a Sith/Imperial Navy Hoth build again. It had done well for me during the first Highlander tournament and I figured a lot of the LS decks wouldn’t be ready to deal with the objective damage mitigation that Hoth decks have. In the end I decided to go Sith/Scum superfriends build trusting the power of Xizor and Palpatine to control the board if they hit the table. My resource base was a little tighter than on LS – three Sith Libraries and a Dark Temple for enhancements, and two Debt Collectors and an Advisor for units. If I was lucky I’d start Masterful Manipulation to help with early mains. I really wanted to try Arden Lyn, but ultimately slotted in Sariss instead because Dark Temple is that good. I also wanted Deadly Sight and Seeds.
Counsel was an easy inclusion because of the resource, the Twist and the card draw. I wanted to try Behind the Black Sun as it was an alternate way of “winning” edge battles. The objective could help you win them outright, or Guri could just jump in when you lose and let you strike first. Threat Removal also looked promising. I thought about leaving it at one Twist and one Guri, but ultimately decided I wanted a second Twist since edge battles were likely to be quite important. My choices came down between Tatooine Crash and The Killing Cold. I was very tempted to run Crash. Neither set has a resource, but Crash gives access to cheap units with tactics. It also is one of the few sets with three units and as it was my deck was shaping up to be a bunch of two unit pods, which could easily leave me in the unit lurch. It was a tough choice, but I went with Killing Cold. I figured it would make my resource split a little more sensible as sixfour the proper way as opposed to my LS build with was sixfour backwards—I was worried about other people playing Snoova. It also gave me two Icetrompers, which can be surprisingly effective.
So how did the decks do? Quite well and they were a lot of fun to play. One aspect of Highlander that I find very interesting is not knowing which version of my deck will show up during any given game. This can of course happen in regular play too, but the difference in Highlander is even more noticeable. Since most of the games don’t involve decks firing on all cylinders you wind up with even more games in the middle sweet zone allowing for more interesting interactions.
The highlight of the tournament for me had to be my game against Nicholai. Nick and I do a lot of playing together and there’s always a good bit of banter back and forth. I thought I had the lock on him with my defensive board and stacked edge hand, but Yoda showed up and just held the force for several turns as he tried to build, but found hand after hand of nothing. My edge hand was starting to stall but eventually I drew Fear, slapped it on Yoda, and got the dial moving again. Nick was still drawing blank but didn’t trust going in early. Eventually he found a card draw engine playing an Ewok Hunter, drawing a card, burning the Ewok Hunter on the Funeral Pyre, drawing another card and next turn discarding a card to bring back his Ewok Hunter and doing it all again. Somewhere in the process of burning his Ewok he drew a Yub Yub and used it to get rid of Yoda’s Fear and slow down the dial again. I was trying to close things out but was falling short on bombs so I had to hold with the dial at 11, trying to last through just another turn. I had a false sense of security with Zekka out on the table, but sure enough on LS’s turn my sociopath just had to attend that Ewok Hunter’s funeral pyre. BtS Luke hit the table and he, Yoda and an Ewok Scout just waltzed past my other defender. Ewoks…. Can’t believe I lost to Yub Yub. God I love Highlander!
Highlander can also be an interesting format for testing new cards and older underplayed ones to see if anything worked well enough to consider playing in a regular tournament. Both Echo Caverns and Icetrompers did some nice work during the tournament, but the MVP really had to be Behind the Black Sun. The ability to throw an edge battle, bring put a two gun unit into play for free and strike first is crazy. In one game things started off looking very dire as they played turn one Owen into BtS Luke and Speeder Bike and then went in against my Zekka. I had All Out Brawl on the table, threw the edge battle, dropped in Guri, struck with Zekka at the Speeder Bike for three, focusing Luke, and then Guri struck Luke for three. First turns against Guri and Brawl can be brutal.
In the final game against Gavin—who was a real pleasure to play against again for the first time since the regional here in MN where he made top eight—Guri made another crippling appearance. Gavin, however, was playing the slow game and rebuilt a very threatening board. Lucky for me he kept adding more and more to the board and this time my Zekka was ready. As Gavin entered the conflict phase I used Deadly Sight to nuke my own Zekka, wiping the board. I gave up a lot of good units, including a Palpatine, but I had Xizor in my hand so I figured I’d be able to rebuild faster than he would. Unfortunately for me Gavin used Gamor Run, revealing a Seeds of Decay making me question whether I wanted to play the Prince or two of my two drops instead. I may have underestimated his ability to rebuild a board – there were Hired Hands, a Lost Master and Chewbacca all ready to come at me. To make matters worse I also knew he had Let the Wookie Win in his hand! It was looking really, really bad. He came in with Chewbacca first to clear out an objective with two damage on it. I couldn’t block. I needed to keep as many units on the board as possible to defend against his second attack against a damaged Killing Cold. He bid his Seeds of Decay to take out a defender and that was my window. I had lost the edge battle, an edge battle I didn’t even participate in, by two. Threat Removal bounced Chewbacca back to hand and that was game.
The tournament had been three rounds, with Gavin and I doing a cut to top two. Everyone I thought played really well during the day and while Jedi and Scum were the most popular affiliations it was interesting to see what version of Jedi or Scum Highlander deck each person brought. Gavin and I built similar decks with a few key differences.
Gavin’s Highlander Decks:
Wookie Life Debt
Along the Gamor Run
A Hero’s Journey
May the Force Be With You
Watchers in the Wasteland
The Forgotten Masters
Secret of Yavin IV
The Slave Trade
No Disintegrations Trandoshan Terror
Fall of the Jedi
Counsel of the Sith
The Emperor’s Web
Agent of the Emperor
Highlander isn’t the only alternate format you can play either! Leading into the Madison Regional Matt Brown and I agreed to make Highlander decks for the other person to pilot in and old school “objectives destroyed/dial matters” match. The winner would be the loser or something like that. What we wound up with was a crazy, crazy match full of Covert Snipers and Aqualish Thugs. Matt even used Over My Dead Body to cancel the two objective damage I was going to get off my thug! If you would like to witness the chaotic horror or our match you can follow the YouTube link to the Star Wars LCG as it was always meant to be played. There will be a quiz at the end of the video.