This entry is part 2 of 8 in the series Guest Article

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Guest Article by Matt Rob

 

Hello, Castlings!

 

I’m writing today about Horde Magic, an Archenemy-style variant of Commander. Horde Magic is rad, because it lets you play co-op instead of the usual melee of Commander, and does so against a flavorful and powerful opponent. For those totally unfamiliar with Horde Magic, there are many resources available1. For those familiar but foggy, here is a crash course.

 

A Quick Rules Recap

 

Like in Archenemy, you and the other human players (or even just you: solitaire is totally doable, but challenging) play cooperatively against one opponent. The difference here is that the opponent is an automated deck composed of tokens and regular Magic cards, and its strategy is explosive enough that you can lose as early as its first turn. I will briefly go over the construction of a Horde deck, followed by the rules of the format, and end with my current favorite Horde deck.

 

To build the Horde deck, you want 45 Magic cards and 55 tokens, all sleeved uniformly. The choice of cards and tokens is determined by the theme: the original Horde focused on zombies and spells reflecting a Night of the Living Dead scenario. The Horde is assumed to have infinite mana at all times, so don’t hesitate to use the splashiest spells possible. Keep in mind that it is better for the Horde to use spells that don’t target so that the deck can be as automated as possible (e.g., spells that require sacrifice instead of spot removal).

 

For gameplay: You and the other players take your turn simultaneously, and then the Horde takes its turn. At the start of the game, the players gets three straight turns in a row to set up their defense, and then after that you alternate turns with the Horde. The reason? On the Horde’s turn, you flip over one card at a time from their deck until you hit a nontoken card. Put those tokens all into play and then cast that spell (They have infinite mana. You probably don’t want to include x-spells in the Horde deck unless you like facing x = 1,000,000,000 kinds of spells.). After the spell resolves, the Horde moves to combat, and their creatures i) have haste and ii) always attack if able. Players attack and block as a team, and each player contributes 20 life to the starting total. The Horde has no life total; instead, every point of damage or life loss mills a card from the top of their library. The players win when the Horde has no cards in play or cards in library2.

 

If the Horde has to make a decision, you have two options: you can flip a coin/roll a die to preserve randomness, or you can decide by committee what is the most unfavorable result for the players (e.g., the Horde has to destroy a land, and instead of assigning all lands a number and then rolling a die, you agree that the Maze of Ith that Player B controls is their best target.).

 

From a Vorthos perspective: you and the other players are trying to fight your way out of a bad situation, and you’re only safe when you’ve defeated all of the threats. Because you’re thrust into an unfamiliar situation, the opponent has the upper-hand early and will likely overwhelm you unless you stabilize. Because of the composition of the Horde deck, you could be facing 10 token creatures and a backbreaking spell immediately, and then do it again next turn.

 

We’re Commander Players: Where’s el Sabor?

 

EDH is awesome. It’s the most flavorful and quirky of all the Magic formats (at least those which I’m privy to). It encourages community and rewards those who dig deep into the archives of Magic, looking for hidden tricks and cards lost to time. But sometimes we dig too deep, and like researchers at Miskatonic University, we uncover ancient horrors. Today, we’ve encountered a lich.

 

Season of the Lich Horde deck

 

20 – 2/2 Zombie tokens

10 – 1/1 Spirit (flying) tokens

8 – 1/1 Snake (deathtouch) tokens

15  – 5/5 Zombie Giant tokens

2 – 5/5 (flying) Demon tokens

55 tokens

 

1 Chromescale Drake

3 Gray Merchant of Asphodel

1 Hellrider

3 Living Lore

4 Phylactery Lich

2 Raving Dead

2 Shambling Attendants

1 Sepulchral Primordial

1 Wurmcoil Engine

18 creatures

 

2 Ankh of Mishra

3 Blasphemous Act

1 Cruel Ultimatum

2 Damping Matrix

1 Leyline of SIngularity

1 Living End

1 Meekstone

4 Price of Progress

1 Rise of the Dark Realms

1 Savor the Moment

1 Scrap Mastery

3 Smallpox

4 Sun Droplet

1 Ward of Bones

1 Weave Fate

27 spells

 

A Lich is a sorcerer who has achieved conditional immortality by placing their soul in an object (a phylactery). Their Methusalan lifespan allows these revenants to accumulate vast amounts of knowledge and power. And today you’ve run head-first into one.

 

To get the flavor of facing a Lich in its lair, I immediately turned to Grixis spells, as order, law, and nature seem at odds with an undead magician. Rise of the Dark Realms and Cruel Ultimatum are bonkers spells, and they get even more so when they can be cast again and again with Living Lore. Blasphemous Act, Smallpox, and Price of Progress are insanely swingy things that a Lich would do. The artifacts are a myriad of stax effects: Ward of Bones is insane, since its controller never actually plays a land, Sun Droplet represents a Lich’s ability to keep on keepin’ on, and Damping Matrix hoses lots of strategies. Leyline of Singularity is there as another means of protecting the Lich, and the three Living Death effects help them reset.

 

On the creature end, the previously mentioned Living Lore is nuts with big spells, Phylactery Lich represents the eponymous threat, and Raving Dead and Gary continue in the direct damage theme.

 

I’ve very much enjoyed the few times I’ve played against this Horde so far. The synergies are very flavorful, and the Stax effects and deathtouch critters fit the idea of a Lich having years of time to build up its defenses.

 

And as I mentioned earlier, you can lose on turn 1. If the Horde casts a Ward of Bones and you only have three lands in play, things (likely) won’t go well for you. Or if they hit a Raving Dead and a Meekstone on consecutive turns… woof.

 

As with any other Horde deck, there are many ways to increase the difficulty should you find it too easy. (i) Swap out cards in your deck that are especially harmful to the Horde (obligatory reference to Deadeye Navigator and Iona, Shield of Emeria; it’s 2015, why are you still playing these two cards?). (ii) Let the Horde flip two nontoken spells per turn. (iii) Up the quality of the Horde’s spells: Pox instead of Smallpox; Grave Titan instead of Shambling Attendant; more Ward of Bones; Orbs of Warding or Forcefield instead of Sun Droplet.

 

Conclusion

 

I’ve received feedback from people with reservations about investing money into building a Horde deck that may only see occasional play. This one, for instance, might cost ~$100 if built from scratch. But that’s the wrong way to look at the format. If you’ve played Magic for long enough to get into building 100-card decks, you probably have boxes of cards lying around. You’d be surprised how easy it is to skim your collection and find a theme for a Horde. For this particular one, a playset of Phylactery Lich is about $2. Throw in the most painful artifacts you have, some big ol’ zombies or krakens from the abyss, and the splashiest spells that aren’t in your EDH deck already, and baby, you got a stew goin’. If you don’t have enough tokens, use what you have on hand or just make some with construction paper: 2/2 wolves can proxy as zombies, Star City Games’ ubiquitous penguins make fine spirits, and wurms/bears/giants can fill in for demons.

 

Just from recent sets, you could easily do: Artificer horde (Origins); Elementals and Dragons (Khans block); Monsters (Theros block); Golgari Horde (Ravnica); or the classic Zombie horde (Innistrad). And that’s not even counting that many of these blocks contribute to common tribes like zombies and elementals. Or you can face a Human horde if you’re more in the Nicol Bolas quadrant of character alignment.

 

Playing against a Horde is a nice variation on the usual Commander game. And facing down an ancient Lich as your archenemy has a Lovecraftian appeal to it. You may lose 2 out of every 3 games against it, but hey, sometimes life’s a Lich.

Endnotes:

1Including, here on Commandercast: http://www.commandercast.com/an-introduction-to-horde-magic; on Quiet Speculation: http://www.quietspeculation.com/2011/10/horde-magic-an-open-source-project/; and on the mothership: http://archive.wizards.com/Magic/magazine/article.aspx?x=mtg/daily/sf/165.

2Regarding lifegain and card draw: if the Horde gains life, place one card from the top of their graveyard onto the bottom of the library for each 1 life gained. For card draw (like from Wheel of Fortune), reveal a card from the top of the library for each card drawn. Those cards are immediately put into play, and any that are spells are immediately resolved. Regarding planeswalkers: the Horde assigns one attacking creature to the planeswalker for each point of loyalty on the planeswalker.

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