September 28, 2011
Every once in a while, I’ll find a card that rewrites the way an aspect of the game works so completely — effectively breaking the rules — that cards an opponent has included in their deck will no longer do what they want them to, and cards in your deck will have effects that are disproportionate to their face value costs. Traditional effects with traditional answers suddenly do not work properly, the normal rules do not apply. No, scratch that. The normal rules not only cease to apply, but have been dragged out back, beaten up and left for dead while a new parody of rules has taken up residence in its apartment and has started entertaining guests. Of course, the fun part about this is that no one else gets to know about the ‘rules change’ until you reveal your generals at the start of the game. Your deck is going to be built on the new rules, while everyone else can wonder when they missed the memo.One of these game changers is Horobi, Death’s Wail. Horobi is a 4/4 with flying for 2BB, whose text reads “Whenever a creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, destroy that creature.”
With this one sentence, Horobi rewrites the rules in some very strange ways. Here are a few examples:
1. Attaching equipment to creatures is instead like sacrificing creatures. Some creatures can survive — like a Myojin with divinity counters or Ulamog — but generally speaking, anyone picking up a sword or jitte or putting on some Lightning Greaves is going to die.
2. Tuck and exile effects that aren’t counterspells don’t tuck or exile.
3. Spot removal spells can no longer be countered by regular counterspells, once a target is announced when a spell is cast, the only way to stop their demise is via Trickbind, Stifle, or Voidslime, or through some sort of non-targeted indestructibility.
Horobi changes some particular cards too:
1. Desert has deathtouch.
2. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker is now arguably the worst creature in magic, as opposed to arguably the best.
3. Cauldron of Souls now destroys masses of creatures rather than sparing them destruction.
Horobi, before any other analysis, rips out the rules, and replaces them with his own weird variant rules, where even the most powerful equipment is a wasted deck slot and trivial effects are roughly the equivalent of a Terminate.
So, when playing Horobi, the game is going to be different. How are we going to play with this new rulebook? Well, let’s first take a look at a few typical cards in a creature based deck black deck that are going to be radically changed by our general. Lightning Greaves, like almost all equipment, is going to be just plain bad in this deck. You could try to make it work by playing a creature, equipping greaves in the absence of Horobi, and then playing your general. This would be a valid, and even beneficial play; having a creature with shroud makes it immune to Horobi’s ability. But, it’s not without risks. With Horobi out, it’s an utterly dead draw or so much worse if someone at your table has a fondness for Mindslaver. On the other hand, Nim Deathmantle could easily be included because the reactive equipping does not target a creature, and will spare them the all too common death that Horobi creates. The other relevant black staple is Profane Command. All of Profane Command’s modes are valuable and useful tools, but one of them gets changed from granting evasion to X creatures to destroying X creatures. An improvement on an already stellar card. Black creature removal is going to pretty much remain the same, but we’ll have a lot more of it, and some of it your opponents are going to want to read it.
The second thing to do is dig up every effect that targets multiple creatures in black and colourless. If targeting is bad for a creature’s health, targeting multiple creatures is like the plague. The first pass through reveals gems like Cauldron of Souls. Cauldron of Souls is pretty decent every other day of the week. On Horobi day, it’s function is reversed: It ends armies instead of saving them. The second awesome multi-target card is Touch of Darkness — a card from a time when Wizards printed stuff ‘just because’ — which Horobi turns into a one mana instant Plague Wind. Finally, Word of Binding becomes much more worthwhile as well.
In the multiple target creature department, Kuro, Pitlord is devastating. Multiple targets, big body, and playability in the ‘old rules’ makes him part of the deck. Nefashu is not my favourite for cost, but fits the bill. Beyond that there are far less devastating but still potent creatures to consider. Caustic Crawler turns your land drops into creature kill, while Guul Draz Assassin and Sorceress Queen are playable iterative kills.
Desert, Urborg (the Legends one), Shizo, Death’s Storehouse and Tower of the Magistrate all offer their services as killers for
hire free. Tower of the Magistrate is probably the most useful outside of Horobi’s rules, while the others at least produce mana. As lands that might as well have been swamps, these cards are utterly painless to run. Finally, for repeatable kill, Dauthi Embrace also gets the nod; with Horobi on the table it’s a reusable kill for BB, and without the Wailing Death, you can give creatures near unbeatable evasion.
One of Horobi’s disadvantages is that he is symmetrical; your creatures are as fragile as your opponents’. However, this isn’t a bad thing. Since creatures of our own are weak to removal, we can run some critters we wouldn’t mind putting away once their usefulness has been outlived, or who are bombs when they die. With all these globally lethal effects and easy kills, we can also run some of our own staff on short-term contract. One creature immediately springs to mind: Abyssal Persecutor. There are at least a few other good candidates, like Shambling Swarm and Mindslicer. The rise in critter mortality limits the usefulness of something like Xathrid Demon, who might leave you in the lurch through an opponent’s clever play.
Now, no one really expect this sort of thing to be one-sided; opponents will catch on, kill our creatures and some of our more abusable tools like Urborg. Horobi could die so many times that his cost from the command zone may become untenable. So, we need to play with a suite of recursion, preferably stuff that will work repeatedly and well into the future. My picks for this are Phyrexian Reclamation, Grim Harvest, Disturbed Burial, Beacon of Unrest, Volrath’s Stronghold, Shrouded Lore and Grim Discovery.
So far so good, right? Yeah, it’s really cool that we’re changing the rules on our opponents, and abusing them, but what if our opponents are running their own cards similar to Urborg? This sort of thing might happen not because of any anticipation of Horobi, but because cards like Minamo, School at Water’s Edge, are often very playable in many decks. What if my opponent’s creatures have shroud, or someone equips Lightning Greaves before Horobi arrives to mess the game up? What’s worse, is something like Minamo shuts Horobi out until dealt with. Even something relatively innocuous like a Crystal Shard will give a deck based around Horobi fits.
My favourite cards to hate on combo fill the same role for solving this problem: Sadistic Sacrament and Bitter Ordeal. Each of these can deliver those tough to remove permanents to a comfortable space in the exile zone, and if they don’t find the cards that hurt Horobi, they can ruin combo pieces or other win conditions. Who do you choose? Well, it’s a shot in the dark, but you can guess the Arcanis the Omnipotent player runs Minamo. Bitter Ordeal offers many opportunities as well, given that permanents can hit the graveyard very frequently with this deck on the field. If one problematic card makes it into play? Well, we’ll pack Spine of Ish Sah, just in case. In terms of creatures with shroud, sacrifice effects like Gatekeeper of Malakir and Chainer’s Edict offer a solution. Braids, Cabal Minion is also a decent inclusion, because forcing choices in a lethal environment is very strong, we have a powerful recursion suite, and she interacts Spine of Ish Sah in an abusive way. As for non-basic land destruction, Dust Bowl and Strip Mine should do well. Finally, the only reasonable artifact hate available to black, Gate to Phyrexia, gets the nod in case of Crystal Shard, other obnoxious artifacts, or even our own Spine of Ish Sah. When all else fails Grave Pact offers a way to punish players who would destroy your creatures (so long as they have something to lose).
The final set of picks that I think this deck needs especially is graveyard hate. If your opponents have comparable recursion engines to you, you may find yourself running out of gas as you murder creatures over and over, only to find them returning. Also, graveyard play decks can be backbreaking on their own, so, we might as well include a powerful set of cards to stop recursive play. My picks for this sort of thing are Withered Wretch, Nezumi Graverobber, Shred Memory, Ebony Charm and Bojuka Bog. A few of these do double duty; Withered Wretch and Nezumi Graverobber are bodies, Shred Memory is a tutor for Grim Harvest or Disturbed Burial, among others, and Ebony Charm doubles as a kill spell with Horobi in play.
The remainder of the deck are staples, and whatever we think will work best in monoblack. It’s a good policy to build your deck to be viable even without your general because of things like Hinder, so warping too much for Horobi can prove damaging. Our deck is pretty far warped around Horobi so far, with stuff like Nefashu and Touch of Darkness, but by and large, our other card choices are still useful cards. I wont bore you with my card choices that need no introduction, like a small suite of tutors, card draw, Sol Ring, and a platoon of good creatures we all know and love to complement the Horobi-warped choices.
I will however, bore you with a what I’m not including. A pair of staples that I left out of this list are Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth and Cabal Coffers. My reasons? Well, there are a few, but most of them involve interdependence and tutoring. At the end of the day, there are a lot of non-basics in the deck, and as a result, Cabal Coffers is not going to be spectacular without the Planar Chaos Urborg. The four ‘target’ lands I’ve mentioned already occupy a special game play space where you’re going to want to tutor them and get right into butchering your opponent’s creatures. If you’ve already drawn one and you topdecked a tutor? Get another one, then you’ll be killing twice as fast. Coffers is a means to an end; you use the silly amount of mana to deal with your opponent’s threats, or to leverage your own. Horobi changes that. Because our threats and answers are disproportionately cheaper under Horobi’s rules, we tutor them ahead of cards that need additional maindeck cards to work (like Coffers and PC Urborg). There’s always Lake of the Dead, anyway.
Is Horobi enough of a game changer to be an interesting general? I’ll let you, the reader, decide.
Horobi, Death’s Wail
Guul Draz Assassin
Gatekeeper of Malakir
Braids, Cabal Minion
Avatar of Woe
Kagemaro, First to Suffer
Bane of the Living
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon
Dimir House Guard
Myojin of Night’s Reach
Artisan of Kozilek
Word of Binding
Beacon of Unrest
Beseech the Queen
Ashes to Ashes
Sign in Blood
Decree of Pain
Promise of Power
Tower of the Magistrate
Shizo, Death’s Storehouse
Lake of the Dead
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