Aggro

Control

Midrange

Combo

Long ago, the four archetypes lived together in harmony. Then, everything changed when the Midrange Nation attacked. Only the Brewer, master of all four archetypes, could stop them, but when the world needed them most, they vanished. 

A key skill for any magic player isn’t just in mastering their chosen deck, it’s making sure that their chosen list is the “best deck” for the room they’re playing in. In Highlander this is no different, and it’s something I often see people forget when brewing in their favorite 100-card singleton eternal format.

Even in the most broken, unhealthy, and homogenous formats, there has always been room for players to attack the meta and gain an upper hand with brewing. This is what drives most deckbuilding innovation, the pursuit of min-maxing your deck to beat what you’re likely to fight, while conceding percentage points in matchups you’re less likely to face.

In the context of 2024 Highlander, Midrange has clearly cemented itself as the dominant archetype of our format. Whenever goodstuff decks rise to prominence there is a surefire answer: Go Bigger

In other formats, examples can be found in Ramp decks like Tron, Scapeshift and Cloudpost, Combo decks like Doomsday, Show & Tell and Amulet Titan, and synergy decks like Affinity, Elves and Hardened Scales. 

If you’ve played any combination of these decks, you’ll know that aside from “going big” each of these decks has their own unique and format-specific weaknesses. This consideration is even more elevated in Highlander, because 100-card singleton deck building doesn’t always offer the necessary redundancy to support many of these “Go Big” variants. 

While lists may vary, there are three common threads for the current generation of dominant midrange decks in Highlander. 

1) They are almost universally running blue, and maintain a relatively robust counter suite

2) The bulk of their threats are 3-4 mana, meaning they’re unlikely to produce a blisteringly fast clock. 

3) They are almost universally running red, with efficient burn spells making up a large portion of their removal suite

The near universal presence of blue disincentives playing a pure combo deck. The historical ramp decks in our format like Academy, Cradlehoof, and Seeker are extremely weak to counterspells, burn, or both. This leaves one option, a synergy deck that is resilient to burn based removal, can fight through/evade counterspells, and can have the downside of spending its first couple turns getting set up. 

Enter: Cyberdrive Cafe

https://www.moxfield.com/decks/qwIBvfeJy0i5UgH8zxNCJQ

As some background, this is a deck I have been working on alongside local Highlander player and Digimon-degen Kevin Bosta. We both wanted to see how far we could push a fair Urza’s Saga deck, specifically built to prey on 4-color/Jeskai goodstuff piles. 

The common play pattern for the deck is to spend the first couple turns setting up with some low cost artifacts, then deploy a giant Karnstruct to stabilize the board, and turn the corner from there. This deck also has a surprisingly consistent highroll potential thanks to your fast mana suite of Tolarian Academy, Mox Opal, Mox Sapphire, Mox Diamond, Chrome Mox, Ancient Tomb, City of Traitors, as well as a “oops your board state is ruined” highroll of Tinker for Portal to Phyrexia, Balance, and Mystical Tutor/Vampiric Tutor. Even without Karnstructs, our density of artifact chaff means it’s surprisingly common to alpha-strike out of nowhere thanks to a Tinkered/Hardcast Cyberdrive Awakener, overloaded Rise and Shine, or even Chapter 3 Antiquities War. 

Strengths: A silver bullet against midrange

In all our testing, this deck has absolutely overperformed in fighting against midrange and goodstuff piles. Urza’s Saga/Retrofitter Foundry will both end the game on their own vs counterspell reliant hands, and you have the tutor redundancy to make having those cards a startlingly consistent gameplan. If your opponent ever taps out, you can threaten to effectively end the game via a natural/instant-speed-tutor for Tinker, Balance, or Mind Twist. Our primary threats come in the form of giant Karnstructs, blanking much of the removal spread these midrange decks rely on. 

A key takeaway we had in all our testing was the incredible modality of the deck. Because lots of the cards you play find the bulk of their value in just having the word “artifact” printed on them, there is an enormous amount of room to play around and customize the threat/artifact suite. The list I’ve shared has many of the trappings of Victoria’s highly aggressive but less combo oriented meta. At the time of writing this article, I have both Market Gnome and Weeping Angel not only included, but pulling weight in the deck. In a similar vein, we’ve eschewed many of the redundant graveyard hate eggs like Phyrexian Furnace and Scrabbling Claws, which have less value in the Victoria meta. 

This is also a deck that can be easily adapted with alternative points spreads. I have built variants of this that have spliced in Time Vault, Hermit Druid/Shuko Cephalid Breakfast, triple mox and 4c no black. The core of playing a Bant artifact deck, with a strong tutor redundancy for Urza’s Saga, has thoroughly proven itself. 

Weaknesses: Knowing when to hold’em and fold em for your meta

Now that we’ve talked about the things the deck does well, let’s talk about where this deck struggles, and when you shouldn’t bring Cyberdrive Cafe to a tournament. 

  1. Degen combo (Thoracle, Flash, Time Vault, Paradox, Doomsday)

We simply do not have the mix of speed and interaction necessary to effectively deal with most degen combo decks. If your meta’s combo decks are mostly restricted to Storm, Creature Combo and Reanimator, playing the full redundancy of graveyard hate eggs will go a long way to salvaging those matchups. If you are unfortunate enough to be paired into a non-graveyard based combo, your only hope is probably high rolling a backbreaking Balance or Mind Twist in combination with fast mana.

  1. Fast mana + backbreaking threat decks. (Monsters, Blood & Taxes, Medium Red)

Because we often need the first couple turns to set up our artifact count, Cyberdrive Cafe can be especially vulnerable to accelerated starts from these fast mana decks. We also don’t have the largest redundancy of removal, so our ability to answer a threat the turn it comes down can be inconsistent. These matchups were the biggest reason for the Tinker/Balance and double Tutor spread, enabling us to clean up boards we otherwise would have no ability to contest on time. Played with no pilot diff, I suspect we have somewhere in the neighborhood of a 40-45% matchup against these decks. Thankfully we crush against smaller aggro decks like RDW, thanks to the combination of the food producers, ways to fetch for Shadowspear, and the Stoneforge/Batterskull duo. 

Brew More = Win More

I think Cyberdrive Cafe exemplifies a principle more Canlander players need to hear:

You don’t need to beat every deck, just the ones that you’re likely to face.

If you’re favored against all but one person in a room, that’s a great place to be. Sometimes dodging a matchup isn’t just valid, it’s what gives you a chance of winning. That same logic you should apply to brewing and deckbuilding. Figure out what your meta is, brew/build something that’s favored into it, and then polarize your matchups so you’re even more refined against it. The only downside is you’re weaker to decks that are unlikely to show up, or that you’re unlikely to face. A trap I see players make time and time again is stretching their deck too thin with silver bullets, tailored for matchups that are either uncommon, or they’re going to lose anyways. 

Brewing also does something not just essential to Highlander, but essential to your meta, it creates change. Even if a format with as diverse gameplay as Highlander, winning and losing against the same decks over and over is boring. By brewing you don’t just open yourself up to new gameplay and situations, you exert pressure on your meta to adapt and become a more dynamic play environment. 

Beyond becoming a more versatile player, brewing is also just an absolute blast in our format. We literally have the maximum possible card pool and play with a 100 card singleton deck. Even having worked on this deck for months, it still feels like there’s tons of untapped potential that hasn’t been fully realized. Whatever your meta, whatever your preferred archetype, there is absolutely a brew out there waiting to be discovered by you, ready to be unleashed onto an unprepared meta.