By William aka BlueRam
Zombies….why’d it have to be zombies?

Let’s be clear: zombies scare the SHIT out of me. I can’t get through a zombie flick unscathed. Every time I watch one, paranoia creeps in and I have to carry a bat around to make myself feel better.

They’re mindless, soulless monsters that can’t be reasoned with or bribed. They’re relentless ghouls that only know basic hunger, and they’ll never be satisfied.

One or two by themselves isn’t a problem. Depending on the type of zombie we’re referring to, they can be outrun (Rule #1: Cardio!), or you may be able to take them down by yourself no problem. But when they gather together in packs, or a horde if you will, then what’s to stop them from overrunning, and tearing your body apart from a hundred different directions at once? What do you do when your friends, your family, or your life partner gets attacked? What happens when you can’t save them? I can imagine fewer ways to die that are as grisly and scary as that.

But…as much as I fear them, I can’t help but love these shambling terrors of the night.

I might not be able to handle certain zombie flicks (I’ve never seen a George Romero product), but I’ve taken a shine to some of the smaller series that have been popping up recently. I just started watching The Walking Dead, and Highschool of the Dead. I’m enjoying both so far, and I LOVED Zombieland. There’s also a manga called Sankarea for those who enjoy a more humane characterization of the zombies themselves.

So naturally I when I first heard about “Horde Magic”, I jumped at the chance to try it out.

In Horde Magic, players create a 100-card deck with roughly 55 tokens and 45 normal spells (creatures, sorceries, enchantments, etc). Players use their Commander decks with 3-free turns to set up before they’re forced to deal with the undead. It’s set up with a two-headed style match-up as the team of players takes on the horde deck, while sharing a life total.

If you want to learn more about the particular basics of how to play horde magic, our very own podcast host Andy has made a helpful video that you can check out here.

Despite complaints against Arch Enemy, Horde Magic is the EDH variant most likely leave you unsatisfied. Either you’re winning handily, or you’ve been torn apart so many times by zombies that you can’t tell your right arm from your left. The difference tends to rely on two things:

1) The amount of people playing

2) The amount of tokens you flip into.

Personally, my experience has been that the addition of a single other player can be enough to take on the zombie horde, sometimes handily if your decks are strong enough. But when I try it by myself, the horde amasses faster than I can deal with them, even when I resort to faster decks that can produces tokens of their own, like Rhys, the Redeemed.

So what’s the fun of playing against something that’s so one-sided? Right now, it’s in trying to find a formula that works for you.

When I built my horde deck, I used the initial deck list that was found on Quietspeculation.com, via Peter Knudson’s article found here. Bad Moon and other pump effects were in the initial list, as were bombs like Plague Wind. It seemed like a relatively fun deck to play with, and with my lack of play group from time to time, I’m always looking for ways to play by myself when I need to sling cards.

Thanks to my love of all things token, I had little problem buying all of the zombie tokens I needed. Once I had the rest of the horde proxied, I set about trying it out with a friend. The horde deck turned out to be the wrong opponent to test out my new Ghave, Guru of Spores deck against. I combo’d out for an infinite amount of saprolings and promptly killed the horde on my next turn.

It wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be, but I wasn’t about to give up. There had to be a way to fix the deck list to handle the power that my group’s decks had.

That’s when the tinkering began.

I began looking at what I wanted the deck to be. The best thing about zombies is when you’re forced to deal with a small army of them, and you’re feeling the pressure. But at the same time, you don’t want to be so overwhelmed that you’re discouraged from playing another round. I wanted a challenge, but a challenge I could do.

After some more test-playing, I decided that games where the deck couldn’t flip over enough tokens were the ones that I enjoyed the least. Rather than increasing the token count, I decided I would make it so that bad luck of the draw and fewer tokens wouldn’t be as hindering. I started including spells that would give us more than just one zombie to deal with.

I started putting in copies of Moan of the Unhallowed to help supplement the army. The idea works like this: The horde flips over tokens until a spell is cast (in this case, Moan of the Unhallowed). When Moan of the Unhallowed is cast, two more tokens appear. Once the spell has been cast, anything with flashback or unearth is cast from the graveyard. Moan of the Unhallowed gets flashed back for two more tokens. When everything has resolved, the horde has assimilated four more zombies for the price of one card. Even if the first card revealed turns out to be Moan of the Unhallowed, it’s just produced three more attacks than what you would have had to deal with normally.

Reap the Seagraf works the same way, just on smaller scale (sometimes to my relief).

The added bonus being that even if you damage the deck, since damage is dealt by milling cards from the deck, flashback cards will give the horde a way to benefit from its loss.

For everything else though, the deck would have to have a way to bring its army back. The way I play, every token card that comes from the deck is treated as a 0 cost monster that gets cast, meaning that mass resurrection spells will bring them back too.

Fortunately, Dark Ascension brought us some new toys to play with that fit the bill. Zombie Apocalypse was an obvious add-in, but I found Gravepurge to be effective too.  Being able to restock the deck let the horde continue the fight on, long after it was supposed to be dead, as zombies should be able to do.

When it comes to avoiding true death, the undying gives us some fun cards to use. Geralf’s Messenger and Sightless Ghoul have the mechanic naturally and can set up some tension if you’re trying to decide whether or not to chump block the zombie.

Prior to Teysa requiring his service, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed was an all-star for the deck, allowing the Rotting Fensnakes another chance to rip us a new one, and turning our 0 cost creature tokens into the army from Hell itself. Actually, It’s probably about time for me to get another one just for my horde.

Cadaverous Knight and Twisted Abomination both get their regenerate paid for whenever they would be destroyed, meaning that if you want to win the game, you need to save your exile or sacrifice effects for these guys.

Of course, even if the deck is able to replenish itself or able to bring back its creatures, if you have a board position that no amount of zombies would be able to break through then it’s easy to stall the game out until you can win.

Board wipes are one of the few ways that an automated deck can interact with board positions outside of the its hordes, which fits the theme of mindless zombies.

However, the Damnation in the original list was proving to be a frustrating card to flip over, not because it would wipe out my defense, but because it would take out the zombies that were hunting me down when they had a definite advantage. If I could rebuild my position easily enough then the horde essentially defeated itself with an untimely draw. I needed things to be a bit more asymmetrical.

This is where I decided some outsourcing would be needed. Demons aren’t too far from zombies as far as absolute killing machines. Reiver Demon and Dread Cacodemon act like Plague Wind, but have the added utility of being bruising beasts themselves.

I found that the quick window they give you can be crucial, especially after you’ve just had your board wiped. Cacodemon taps down all of the zombies as they get knocked over by his presence, and neither demon is the deck’s chosen tribe, meaning that they won’t be able to swing at you the turn they come down.

Because their effects only trigger when they’re cast though, the horde won’t be able to take a quick and easy win by playing Living Death to bring back a swarm of tokens and wiping out your defenses on a demon trigger. But this does give Gravepurge some added utility.

The deck was still missing something though. It needed a certain…terror. Something lurking in it that would cause my players to dread what could be in the deck. I found my answer in the binder where I keep my unused legendary cards.

Because according to the oracle text, Phage the Untouchable is a zombie minion. That meant that she would be able to swing for the game as soon as she entered the field. And if she was resurrected, well, the horde isn’t a player so Phage can’t really make it lose the game.

As with most projects I work on, this one is still in progress. I’m still playtesting different decks to see if I have a Commander deck that’s fast enough to deal with the sudden onslaught of tokens that get made by it, though I still find multiple players who rely on combo can really take off in the three turns allotted to them. To this end, I’m thinking of cutting the preparation turns down a couple, as well as the life. That should work.

If I ever get this zombie thing down, I’ve got my eye towards creating dragon and soldier themed decks. With dragons it’s easy enough thematically, but soldiers require a bit more structure, particularly since they tend to gain vigilance and actually have the mind to block for their squad. Even Eldrazi sounds like fun if it’s crafted right.

If you’ve got comments, suggestions, or questions about horde or just about anything in general, feel free to comment below the article, email me at Wiehernandez(at)gmail(dot)com, or tweet me @BlueRam1409.

Join me next week as I help Commandercast send off for its season finale.

Until then, remember to rule #2: double-tap.