Horde Magic: An Open Source Project

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Peter Knudson follows up on the format that took the web by storm, digging into alternative Horde lists, the concept of Survivor decks, how to handle Planeswalkers, and a proposed banned list.

Read the original article here: “Horde Magic: A New Way to Play Magic and Survive Zombie Invasions”

Horde Magic got a lot of people really excited. It makes me super happy that I’m not alone in my love of killing zombies.

What I love about Magic is how it generally adheres to the philosophy of ‘open-source.’ For those not familiar with the term, open-source is often used in the context of computer software, where the final product’s source code is freely distributed to the public, so other developers can improve it, expand on it, or change it how they wish. When you appeal to the hivemind for improvements, great things can happen.

Magic is mostly open-source, in my mind. While it’s true that Wizards of the Coast designs and develops each Magic expansion, that’s not the final story. The Magic community is vast and highly engaged in their hobby and want to see only the best for it. The hundreds of Magic blogs and forums are a testament to players demanding their own Magic content. Community driven formats such as Commander and Overextended pop out of nowhere and change the way people look at their collection. Does anyone even remember where the idea of a Cube came from? People still argue as to what is correct Cube Philosophy, which shows how generative and awesome the idea is.

Also have you seen Space: The Convergence Cube? It’s freaking sweet.

Etc, etc. Magic circle-jerk is over.

The point is that I hoped Horde Magic get people excited enough to try it out, make changes, and bring the format to a sweet place. And boy they did.

If you want to hear what some people are saying about Horde Magic, Rob Rothe’s thoughts, Adam Styborski’s recap, and this thread on The Source are great places to start. The conversation has made its way to kitchen tables all across the, well, world.

I’d like to now take a look at some peoples’ thoughts on the format and give my take. Many left their thoughts in articles, various forums, and on Twitter, and you should continue to feel free to send me a message if you wish to share your own opinions.

Scaling Problems

A few people mentioned the issue of scaling and how the Horde deck doesn’t scale. @bassiuz mentioned that, while his two-player experience was fine, it got too easy as he added more players. Indeed, simply adding more cards to the Horde deck won’t always make gameplay as adequately difficult as you’d like, especially if the Survivors are using fully-powered Commander decks. He mentioned decreasing the number of start-up turns.

I’m in favor of scaling the number of start-up turns for 3-4 player games down to 2. It puts people on the back-peddle faster and will certainly help with the scaling problems.

However, I’ve got some problems with changing more rules to fix the scaling problems. When looking at the power-level issue in Horde Magic, you’ve got two levers: the rules and the cards that the Horde can play. I like the current set of rules because they are simple, easy to remember, and achieve the gameplay that I was looking for. While some players felt the games were to easy, others did not. This leads me to believe that the issues some had with the difficulty is in the cards themselves, not the rules.

Adam Styborski (@the_stybs) wrote an excellent break down of the rules on the Mothership. So if you’re finding the Zombie Horde too easy, make the Zombies way scarier! Which means sayonara, Maggot Carrier, Rotting Zensnake, and Walking Corpse!

Some sweet additions you can add to your Horde:

Noxious Ghoul

Noxious Ghoul: Honestly, this was in one of my original lists, but I have no idea how or why it got cut. Back you go! It’s a very good card in the Horde deck because it’s a board sweeper, plays well autonomously, and is very flavorful.

All is Dust

All is Dust (h/t @ahalavais): Board sweepers are great because they don’t let the survivors pile-up defenses without consequences. Even the threat of an All is Dust turns every play into cost-benefit situations (and Magic loves those!). All is Dust beats everything, and while it’s not Zombie-flavored, which is kinda sad, it actually plays really nicely as it resets ALL the things.


Smallpox: At first I wasn’t a huge fan of having zombies make any choices at all, but if all they are doing is sacrificing a creature, it’s not a big deal. Just have the Horde bin a zombie token. No biggie. And Smallpox is a devastating hit early, so I’m endorsing it as a good addition.

Mnemonic Nexus

Mnemonic Nexus: I must admit, I’m a bit of a flavor purist. That means no cards that don’t reference Zombies. However, the user K405 from MTG Salvation listed this card as a potential addition, and I must admit I’m intrigued. Imagine getting this played on you after you’ve gone through almost the whole Zombie pile. Damn!

Vulturous Zombie

Vulturous Zombie: A big hitter, and also addresses the noticeable lack of flying creatures in the Zombie deck. While I don’t think there should be too many flyers, like any good tower defense, there have to be some flying units.

Living Death

Living Death: Having another board-sweep/game changer can make the game more interesting and Living Death is also pretty flavorful, so it has my vote of confidence. Although, it does have the ability to just end the game if played late, so be sure to save your Moment’s Peace or Counterspell for this bad boy.

Planeswalker Problem

Sort of a big, glaring omission from the original set of rules. How do we deal with Planeswalkers?  Jace, you’ve ruined ANOTHER perfectly good format.  Good going.

There are a number of suggestions, but after considering the options, this is what I’m going with.

  • If the Survivors control a Planeswalker, flip a coin at the beginning of combat.  If it comes up heads, the Horde randomly allocates one Zombie per point of loyalty for each Planeswalker the Survivors control, starting in a random order (in case there are multiples).

It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done.

It’s also fairly flavorful. Imagine Planeswalkers being “that guy” in the group, the one you sort of feel okay about leaving behind. If the coin comes up heads, you’re put in a hard spot: do you spend blocks and resources in order to stop the onslaught facing your Walker, or do you leave it behind and keep running?

Pre-Constructed Survivor Decks

Fixed experiences are never bad. One way to experience Horde Magic is to create some preconstructed Commander decks explicitly designed to battle against the Horde. Each Survivor Deck would have it’s own role, so one player might play the role of the Cleric, while another could be a Warrior. Here is a Survivor deck, courtesy of @mtgcolorpie:

”G/W Survivor (h/t @mtgcolorpie)”

I like this for a Survivor deck for a few reasons.  Firstly, it’s not overpowered – meaning that beating the Horde is more of a challenge than with your typical tricked-out Commander deck.  Secondly, it’s thematic, which is right up my ally, and the copious amount of soldiers demonstrate the role of “fighter” in a party of Survivors.  I’m brainstorming ideas for the Wizard and Cleric currently; hopefully some sweet teamwork can come into play.

Other Horde Decks

I haven’t seen a list for the Squirrel Horde yet, but I’m still hoping someone will make my dreams a reality.

The creative juices started flowing and there are a number of interesting alternative Hordes you can check out. Granted, these are probably untested, but good starting points nonetheless!

Slivers are pretty sweet in Horde Magic because they have a peon-type unit that gets pumped, which makes the game get increasingly harder as the game progresses. @wobbles also noted that Sliver Overlord should be placed at the bottom, which would create an awesome “End Boss” feel. So, with that in mind, what would the end boss be for the Zombie Horde?

Really interesting idea here and I can’t wait to try this one out.  Cat tokens are excellent because they’re identical to Zombie tokens, so we don’t have to play around with power-level too much (as opposed to 1/1 tokens).  I really like the breakdown of non-token cards: you’ve got your mediocre cat flips, some bigger, scarier cats, and then your game-enders.  It’s multi-colored, but stays on theme.  Honestly, it looks tough to defeat, but that could be considered a challenge by many Horde Magic fans.

Merfolk was not a tribe I thought would make a good Horde deck, but @bassiuz might just prove me wrong.  Merfolk tokens are 1/1, but there are enough lords that it might not be an issue.  Hysterical Blindness, Veteran of the Dead, Summon the School, and Balance (for the lulz) are perfect examples of cards that you can find in your collection that make great Horde Magic cards.

Banned List

One of the first things people noticed about Horde Magic was that certain cards automatically destroy the Horde deck. This is not fun, can be an obvious flaw, but there isn’t anything we can do about that, except…

Well, every format has a banned list, so why not Horde Magic?

Here is a good place to start (Thanks @gg_crono for help compiling this list – you caught a lot of them!).

The following cards are hereby banned from use in the Survivor decks:

Obviously a rough list at the moment, but it catches a lot of the auto-wins. Please sound off with more possible additions in the comments below, if you have ‘em.

Until Next Time!

I’m stoked that so many people tried out Horde Magic. As always, I’m always down to brainstorm new ideas, so hit me up on Twitter. I’ll follow up this article with an updated banned list and some new Horde deck ideas in a few weeks, so definitely check back if you find this format fun.

I’ve got a few more up my sleeve, so stay tuned.

Hit me up on Twitter (@mtg_pete) or in the comments below.

-Peter Knudson


Read the original article here: “Horde Magic: A New Way to Play Magic and Survive Zombie Invasions”


Peter Knudson

Peter is a die-hard Magic fan, loving both the fun of the kitchen table and the thrill of the competition on the Pro Tour. He is a two-time Wizards of the Coast R&D intern, working on development teams for Planechase, Commader, and designer of TweetMTG. Peter is also a competent competitive player, with multiple Grand Prix money finishes and a Pro Tour appearance.

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