This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Kitchen Table Tactics
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By J. Marshall

Day 1 –

Have you ever seen old portraits in an art museum? Their lifeless stares seemed to follow you beyond all logic and common sense.  It’s the best comparison I can give to this horror show I fear I’m stuck in.  The unsettling chill of being constantly watched is unshakable.  There is no soul in our enemy; there is no compassion or glimmer of pity.  There is only death.  We’ve found what could pass as a bunker, a small serviceable shelter with strong doors.  Even here, as much as my compatriots try to comfort me, I know we won’t be safe.  I can still feel them staring at us, I only hope that it’s my imagination.  We’ve been running for so long now, have we found some place to defend ourselves, or our tomb?

Day 4 –

They found us last night.  It was only a few at first but the stench was unbearable, the little that was in my stomach churned.  I was finally relieved from that ‘burden’ when they entered the clearing.  Their flesh was rotting away, falling off their bodies as they shambled forward.  How their limbs still move in this state is beyond me.  They crashed upon our embattlements, clawing and scraping against our hodgepodge efforts to secure the doors and windows.  I’m fighting off the shimmer of hope I see in my friends’ eyes.  Although our defenses held, they are naive to the truth: more will be here tonight.

 Army of the damned

Well that was fun!  I was thinking about how to introduce ‘Horde Magic’, and I wanted to encapsulate the hopelessness that’s universal in all survival horror games.

Horde Magic will be the first multiplayer variant that I will be presenting to you.  I’m going to go over the rules, some ‘COGS’ where you can adjust the difficulty depending on your play group, and finish up with some game play.  I hope by the end you get a feel for how Horde Magic is played and have sufficient details to play on your own! (Although if you have any questions, hit me up in the comments or feel free to email me)

My first introduction to Horde magic originated here.  At the time it was a novel concept where you and your friends were allies tackling a gradually insurmountable challenge.  For those looking for background on the variant I’d encourage you to read the linked article.  Today however I’m going to break down the format how my friends and I currently play it, with the additional changes we’ve added (including a ban list) in order to keep the format fun as well as clarify certain interactions.

But first let me say this:




Okay now with that out of the way allow me to go over the rules and game play for the format as it’s evolved for us.  Horde Magic is best played with 2-4 players,-as you get more players the balance begins to degrade quickly.  That said, if you want to increase the number of players, I’d suggest adjusting a few ‘COGS’ to adjust the difficulty.

1)    Players start with a total of 60 life, divided evenly between the number of players.  Although this is a team game, players retain the ability to sacrifice an ally to the Zombie horde.  Having split life totals allows this dynamic.  COG1: The most obvious change is the starting life total for the survivors. Decrease for a more challenging game.

2)    Players will have three turns to prepare their defenses before the Horde will get their first turn.  In a way this variant is a duel so the survivors do not draw on their first turn.

3)    Horde:

  1. The Horde’s turn progresses: Untap, Upkeep, Main Phase, Attack Step, End Step.
  2. The horde has infinite mana of all colors, and will be used to pay for any taxation effects (Mana Leak, Propaganda, etc.).
  3. At the beginning of the Horde’s ‘Main Phase,’ reveal cards from the top of the library until you reveal a non-token spell.  All tokens come into play, and the spell is then cast.  Spells use the stack as normal. If choices are required, choose at random (they are mindless, after all).  As the game progresses, the number of spells revealed increases.  (Horde Turns 1,2,3 = reveal until 1 spell; Turns 4,5,6 = reveal until 2 spells; Turns 7 + = 3 spells)  During later turns (when multiple spells are to be revealed) resolve them each individually.  In this way if the first non-token spell revealed is a Phyrexian Rebirth the zombies revealed before will be destroyed and the ones afterwards will still be alive for the second non-token revealed spell.  COG2:  The number of spells revealed quickly ramps the difficulty of the game state, increasing the chance of board altering effect appearing.  Although it’s important for the survivors to get at least one turn with just 1 reveal, this is the prime COG to adjust if the number of players goes above 4. 
  4. All creatures the Horde controls have haste and must attack if able.  If there is a planeswalker in play, it will swing with sufficient creatures to kill the walker (as if no blockers were declared).  Players may make any legal blocks as they choose.  Unblocked zombies damage players divided as they choose.  If damage is divided they must be divided in ‘whole zombies’ a 2/2 zombie can not do 1 damage to 2 players.
  5. If a spell with flashback is cast, the spell is automatically cast again the subsequent turn (unless otherwise prohibited by the game state).  COG3: You can remove this ability to reduce the difficulty of the game.
  6. If the Horde were to gain life, put any tokens in the GY on the bottom of the Horde library.
  7. If the Horde were to draw cards (Jace Beleren’s +2 ability for example), reveal the top card and it is cast immediately, ignoring normal casting restrictions.  If it’s a token it enters the battlefield untapped.
  8. If a permanent is bounced (Cyclonic Rift) it is placed on top of the Horde library, it is the first card cast on the Horde’s next turn and does not count toward it’s typical casts.  (This does give players the ability to bounce permanents and mill the it away with combat).
  9. When tokens revealed from the library die, they go to the graveyard.  This supports shuffle effects like Mnemonic Nexus.

4)    If players attack the Horde, no blockers will be declared (largely due to them being tapped from attacking, but again mindless and defense don’t fit together).  The Horde will mill cards equal to the amount of damage dealt.  You cannot target the Horde with Mill effects (sorry, it is just too broken).  COG4: If there are 5 or more players cards milled from the Horde is halved.

5)    The Horde is defeated when its library is empty, all creatures are destroyed, and it is impossible for the Horde to win.

6)    Nightmare Mode: Players have a total of 10min to defeat the Horde. Use a stop watch to pause time during the Horde’s non-combat phase.


The Ban List:

Elesh Norn

Image courtesy of

So for those of you who are looking at the rules and thinking, “Elesh Norn totally auto-wins here!” those are the exact type of cards that are on the ban list.  The list is by no means totally inclusive, but it should give you an idea of the type of cards that are not legal in the variant.  If you draw a card either on this list or breaks the format, cycle it for free(discard and draw a new card).  COG5:  This list of cards (again not inclusive) are those my play group has chosen for balance, you may find different cards that belong here or disagree with those I’m suggesting.  Feel free to tinker.


Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Steel Hellkite, Balefire Dragon, AEther Flash, Massacre Wurm, and anything else that can repeatedly wipe the Zombie Tokens off the field are banned.  These are recent examples that turn the game’s favor drastically in the Player’s favor.

Moat, Island Sanctuary, Silent Arbiter, Dueling Grounds, Ensnaring Bridge, Crawlspace and other effects that stop the horde from attacking en mass.

Portcullis, Arcane Laboratory and other miscellaneous cards that just shut down the mechanics of the format.


As you test and build your own Horde decks you may find that some of these cards can be allowed.  We’ve found they just make the game too easy for the Survivors.

And so I present my Zombie Horde deck:




70 Zombie Tokens (2/2)
15 Zombie Giant tokens (5/5)
1 token ea of: Demon(5/5 flying), Squirrel (1/1), dragon (5/5 flying), Wolf (1/1 deathtouch), Goat (0/1), Wurm (6/6), Bird (3/3 flying) (Each still considered a ‘Zombie’)

COG6: Adding more tokens is a great way to slowly increase the difficulty of the deck.  Adding humorous tokens like Goats or Squirrels can be excellent way to break the monotony of Zombie tokens.

Example Gameplay!

I’m not sure what the best way to transcribe game play without ruining the actual game being played, so over the course of the series expect me to experiment with various techniques.  Any feedback would be well appreciated.  Below is a series of pictures of a game of Horde Magic we played a few weeks ago.  Instead of taking pictures and describing what’s happening each turn (in an already long article), I’m hoping the following gives you the highlights and a feel for how a typical game can progress.  For those who watch Top Gear on BBC, I’m trying to find a balance between Jeremy and James.

Meet ‘the Survivors’:


Hi! I like to smash things, and smash more things!


Don’t look at me! I’ve not had my morning coffee!


Hey this guy looks familiar….

Day 3:

IMG_0775 IMG_0777 IMG_0776

Notable cards that you can see in the above: Luminarch Ascension, Animar, Soul of Elements, and Spellskite. All are excellent blockers of the majority of the deck: 2/2 Zombies.

That night:


Not terrifying, but Heat Stroke makes pro-black Animar vulnerable

Well, they’re excellent blockers until Heat Stroke is in play.  When I added Heat Stroke to the deck it was due to the observation that the Zombie creatures were pretty easy to handle with first strike creatures, creatures with pro-black, or anything with 3 or more toughness.  Enchantments like Heat Stroke or Death Pits of Rath, make the survivors on edge and complicate combat math until they are able to handle the permanent.

Day 6:

IMG_0781 IMG_0779 IMG_0780

The above shows that the players have amassed a fairly substantial army: Luminarch Ascension is live, Dragon Broodmother is cloned with Progenitor Mimic, and Talrand, Sky Summoner is on the field with mana up. They’ve begun using Heat Stroke to their advantage and largely keeping the Zombie Horde at bay (sans splash damage from Diregraf Captain.)

That night….


Aurelia was sacrificed for the greater good…

This is the Horde’s turn #4. It’s first reveal is Phyrexian Rebirth. These sweepers allow the Horde deck to break through the defenses Survivors build up forcing them to consider attacking in hopes of ‘milling’ some of the more dangerous spells. Rebirth in particular is extremely powerful in Horde Magic, leaving the horde with a large Horror token which in this game kills Aurelia (who is still locked on 3 mana), I personally prefer this over Plague Wind as a single giant token gives the Survivors an opportunity to respond. After this sweeper the remaining two players are able to recover and mop up the rest. Animar rebuilds his army (Talrand had cast Cyclonic Rift on Dragon Broodmother to save it from Rebirth) and Talarand is digging for a land to cast Diluvian Primordial.

That is until….

The final death blow:



Remember what I was saying about dangerous spells- these are important to include.  The survivors feel accomplished when they mill one into the graveyard, and are on edge when waiting for the Horde deck to reveal.  (Also note the inkwell looter tokens in the picture.  I use them to represent Zombie tokens generated by Grave Titan that follow normal token zone restrictions) COG7: Zombie Apocalypse and other mass recursion spells can either just effect the Zombie spells or spells AND tokens, the later being dramatically more dangerous.

I hope you enjoyed this look at Horde Magic!  If you have any comments, questions, suggestions or an alternative format you’d like to show off?  Contact me at kitchentabletactics at gmail dot com. Or on twitter @KTT_Magic See you in two weeks!


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