Friday, July 24, 2009

Grim Tidings #8: Highlander 5-Color (H5C)

(Contributed by John Kozlowski)

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that 5-Color is my favorite magic format of all time. However it seems lately the format is in a moment of crisis, perhaps the greatest ever. 5-Color participation is waning, the B&R hasn’t been reviewed since January, and recently, the website has recently unexpectedly gone down.

5-color Magic is a format that requires you to build a deck of at least 250 cards, with a minimum of 20 cards from each color. There is a special Banned/Restricted list posted at but basically most cards are legal except for the Unglued/Unhinged expansions.

The format is governed by the 5-Color Ruling Council (5CRC), a group comprised of seven members spread regionally across the country. Their representation is supposed to voice the opinions of the players, based on local trends and tournaments results. Over the years, the 5CRC has actively shaped the format to be the “most electrifying format” in all of Magic.

A few members of the 5CRC are still pretty in touch with the format. They still organize events, and are in tune with what is unbalancing. But while 5C may be casually healthy here in North Carolina, national participation has me concerned. The official 5-color forums have been ominously quiet for the last two or three months, with little discussion or innovation of new cards and/or deck ideas. Some point to EDH as the reason for decline.

// EDH Rant
I interrupt this article for a quick little rant regarding EDH. Every year or so, I find myself re-engaged with EDH once again. And then a few months later, I can’t stand it. I always fall back to 5-Color in these situations. I think the format can tend to be degenerate, as the life totals are overly huge, to start, and the main combo piece of your deck is auto-tutored EVERY game, and auto-regrown EVERY time it destroyed. Games become a race to breaking your general, with predictable, boring results every game. While I understand EDH’s appeal, at the same time, I hate it. End rant. //

Meanwhile there are some scary comments being said. “If this is the end of 5-Color, so be it.” “The format is stagnant, I’ve moved on.” I’ve been wondering where the format was heading, and this doesn’t look good. Props to the 5CRC Chairman for stepping in and listening to ideas from (the few remaining) players to come up with ideas to save it. Suggestions to increase to 25 cards of each color, or loosening up the B&R list (Unbanning Time Walk, Yawgmoth’’s Will, Vampiric Tutor, & Oath of Druids, among others) are all being considered. Time will tell if they passed by a vote, but at least the 5CRC is doing something.

Casual versus Tournaments
Its too bad I don’t have the drive (or time) to organize 5-Color tournaments. It seems organized play is the only effective way to get a format legitimized. That’s too bad, for I think 5-Color has grown in popularity in Raleigh/Durham over the past few years, even if we are soley a casually-competitive community. There needs to be a happy-medium for the casual-competitive 5-Color crowd to keep playing the format in case the “official” format dies.

Highlander 5-Color (H5C)
I have a tentative solution – create another version of the format. What if 5-Color was required to be Highlander, just like EDH? This would mean ALL cards are restricted (other than basic land, of course). I would certainly make it more difficult for new players to get involved with the format, but is 5-Color really a beginner’s format anyways? (No.)

I essentially been playing H5C since 2005. The previous version of my Grim Reminder deck was 750 cards, and entirely highlander (except for the 35 Reminders, but since the deck was so big, no one ever seemed to notice!) However, my playing highlander was purely a voluntary decision. I was playing th eexact same set of rules standard 5C required. What I would like to do is officially establish Highlander 5-Color as a unique variant format, where highlander is mandatory.

In H5C, the games tend to always be different, due to the huge diversity on the deck contents. Since no card appears twice I think the dilution of deck contents would actually shrink the banned & restricted list too. In light of the current buzz about loosening up the B&R, we've been talking about what effect it will have locally. Obviously a H5C Restricted list would be moot, as everything is restricted anyways. The banned list is of more importance.

I'm blessed that I play in a very responsible gaming community. Most players I regularly face off against are thoughtful, and never forget that we are only playing a game. In an ideal world such as this, there really isn't a need for a banned list, as the community polices itself. Unfortunately, once you step outside these boundaries, you find differing definitions of what "fun" is, and B&R lists become a necessity to keep the peace!

Last week, a few of us sat down and reviewed the entire B&R. We discussed which currently banned cards would be blatantly unbalanced in our community, and the potential effect it would have on us if it were moved to “R”. Here’s a list of the current 5C banned cards:

All Ante cards
Battle of Wits
Bringer Of The Black Dawn
Crucible of Worlds
Demonic Consultation
Gifts Ungiven
Holistic Wisdom
Imperial Seal
Mystical Tutor
Oath of Druids
Panoptic Mirror
Parallel Thoughts
Phyrexian Portal
Sundering Titan
Survival of the Fittest
Time Walk
Vampiric Tutor
Wild Research
Yawgmoth's Bargain
Yawgmoth's Will

Note, there's not even this much on the Vintage (aka Type 1) banned list! The vintage list is essentially just the Ante cards. The only real difference is that 5-Color allows Chaos Orb & Falling Star, but I think there are sufficient existing 5C rules on how to resolve so I think they can stay. Plus they are fun!

As a player with real 5C tournament experience, I have an understanding of the historical development of the B&R, I experienced what transpired when players repeatedly recurred Time Walk however many years ago. I suffered (and abused) Tinker-Sundering Titan combo. I have used all of the 1 cmc tutors to cast Contract from Below four times in a single game.

Surprisingly though, as I explain this to my play group in terms of H5C, many players who were oblivious to all of this old crap are still open to moving the majority of the banned list to restricted. Note, many of these people don’t even own Time Walks (or even Yawg-Win for that matter!) They just thought it would be cool to play as many cards in the most open format out there. Except for Ante, Battle of Wits and Shahadrazad, there isn’t much objection to any of it. (Yet.)

So that leaves me with a casual-competitive mission statement, and a new format to develop. I’d like to start testing H5C out, and see where it evolves to. I’ll assemble a group of playtesters together to experiment with the entire H5C card pool. I have a feeling this may work. I need to think about it in depth, and seek feedback from other players. More to come next few weeks, for sure.
In the meantime, the 5CRC will continue to discuss the state of the format and see if it can be salvaged. But for now, I have an idea that might become the replacement for the casual-competitive crowd. It’s better to be proactive than inactive.

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