Horde Magic 2.0 – Introducing The Raid

Hi again, everyone.   It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about Horde Magic, my pet project that I introduced on Quiet Speculation last year, but I am back again with some new Horde Magic goodness to try and breathe some new life into the format and to provide some updates.

Today’s article delves into a meta-discussion about casual Magic and the appeal of the story that makes Magic great, and the story that Horde Magic provides.

A Brief Refresher

You can read my original article here, and the followup here.

Horde Magic is a variant of Magic in which players play cooperatively against an automated enemy deck.  Many people liken the format to Archenemy, except without a pilot for the Archenemy deck.  The object is to collectively survive and eliminate the opposing Horde deck alongside your allies.  Check out this article on DailyMTG for a good rules breakdown.

What is Horde Magic and Who is it For?

What I find most appealing about Horde Magic (as well as Archenemy and Planechase) is that it essentially takes the Magic game that we know and love and turns it on it head.  While Magic works perfectly well rules-wise with more than two players, in reality the game is designed as a battle of wits between two mages.

When there is a new way to use Magic cards, however, I get excited because, as much as I like to play in FNMs, PTQs, and Grand Prix, I get to experience Magic in a way that I haven’t before.

Horde Magic is for the casual player.  Many of my Magic playing friends are serious competitive players,  and when shown Horde Magic are not interested in playing a format with no competition, or when they do they immediately try to break the format.

There is no argument that if you stack your deck with four Moats you can routinely beat the Zombie Horde.  At first I proposed a banned list, and then a “blanket” banned list (i.e no Wraths), but I ultimately scrapped the idea of that altogether.  The people who enjoy playing Horde Magic and building new Horde decks are not the same people clamoring that the format is too easy to “solve.”

At the same time, the idea behind Horde Magic is that you can whip it out any time (much like a Type 4 stack) and play with whatever decks you have. If you are trying to game the system then you are doing it wrong.

I learned many things about Magic from Mark Rosewater, but some of the best lessons involved the psychographics of Magic Players: Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.  Horde Magic is for Timmy.

Many people mistakenly liken Timmy to mean a bad Magic player.  This is wholeheartedly false. These embodiments don’t encompass play skill or knowledge of the game, but simply the motivations for playing Magic.  At the heart, Timmy wants to experience something.  A Timmy wants to cast Souls Majesty and Beserk on the same creature, kick a Rite of Replication on a Craterhoof Behemoth, or even as simple as attack with Shivan Dragon (it’s a freaking huge dragon!). Win or lose the game, Timmy wins when he does something really cool that everyone will remember.

Magic players live and die by the story – be it bad beat story, a story of an interesting limited combo, or a karaoke after party story.

At the heart of Magic player’s enjoyment is the hunt for the story

New Horde decks: Crafting the Story

What I have come to realize is that every good Horde deck needs a believable story.  With the original Zombie Horde, the story was recognizable and salient.  The survivors are teaming up in an effort to survive the zombie apocalypse.  The team is in survival mode for a few turns before attacking the Zombies it’s source. There are many Zombie movies and video games, and so the idea of being able to roleplay a survivor is pretty appealing.

Now that Horde Magic is a more robust format and people are experimenting with many different types of Horde, I think it’s interesting to think about what makes a good Horde deck.  To me, it’s the story.  Why am I battling this Horde? What is the mission and what are we doing trying to complete it?

Horde Magic Variant – The Raid

The dedicated Horde magic player is a character in a roleplaying game.  He or she working together with their party to finish a quest.  Horde Magic requires the same dedication and imagination that playing a quest in Dungeons and Dragons does – you could magically gift yourself some high-level items to make the quest really easy, but that’s not fun.  D&D is about the experience, and so is Horde Magic.

To give an example, and keeping with the theme of roleplaying games, I present to you a spin on Horde Magic that focuses on completing a series of quests. When trying out this format, please bear in mind it is a work-in-progress and you may have to a lot of trial and error to get the right set of rules and Horde deck to achieve the best gameplay.

The Raid variant plays the same as a normal Horde magic game, but takes a few liberties.

  • First, the Horde deck needs to be semi-ordered before you can play. This makes sure that you fight the battles in the correct order, but the cards within each “quest” should be random.
  • Secondly, when an artifact is flipped over, it doesn’t count as a non-token card and is considered loot for the survivors to use for themselves.
  • Finally, you can’t attack the Horde deck in the Raid variant.  This makes constructed Horde decks (and choosing the deck you play with) little more difficult because you are playing defense the whole time.  Your milage may vary, so you should feel free to add any additional rules that you find makes games more fun.

What I like about this variant is that it allows the Horde-deck builder to assume the role of the Dungeon Master.  You could mix-and-match quest lines and have your friends complete a series of quests each week building up to a powerful end-boss-Horde-deck.  I think there is a lot of room for designing interesting Raid decks and innovating on these rules.

The Dragonborn

I call this deck “The Dragonborn.”  I have been playing a lot of Skyrim recently (late to the party, I know), and got to thinking how I can pay homage to that game through a Horde deck.  This deck requires a different set of rules, but I think if you follow them, you will actually find that the roleplaying feel come alive.  Right in time for the beta of Elder Scrolls Online, too!

Here’s the way to set up the “Dragonborn” Horde deck.  Put the deck in this order, and within each ground make sure they are randomized:

  1. Green cards and Tokens
  2. First Dragon Boss
  3. White cards and tokens
  4. Second Dragon Boss
  5. Black cards and tokens
  6. Red Cards and Zombie Tokens.
  7. Final Boss

You’ll first notice that the list looks like a complete mess, but hear me out.  As a team, your goal is to eliminate Alduin and his army of newly-risen dragons.  However, you find yourself trapped in the forest filled with wolves, bears, and other detestable creatures.  Your goal is to battle through the wilderness, single-handedly stymie the Stormcloak rebels, retrieve a valuable artifact from Dark Brotherhood, and then make your way to Sovngarde to put an end to the world-eating dragon.

Feel free to give this a shot – I felt that the survivors were very favored in this particular matchup, which leads me to want to add either a reset rule after each stage or more sweepers as random effects.

Let me know what your experiences in the comments!

Enter Gatecrash’s Rats

Every new Magic: The Gathering set means new Horde Magic toys, and Gatecrash did not let us down. One card in particular has a lot of Horde potential: Ogre Slumlord. His existence in the set also brings us Rat tokens for perusal. Together they are just asking to make a Horde deck around them.

“Rats, at the hand of a seedy crime syndicate, have invested your city.  It’s your job to exterminate every last rat on your way to reclaiming your home from mercilious criminals.”

So per usual, some cards don’t just work without a brain telling them what to do, so we have to utilize some of the Horde Magic specific rules here.   For example, I wanted to use Masuleum Turnkey because it fits in with our criminal sub-theme, so remember that any creature you return goes directly into play (because the Horde deck plays things from their hand for free).

Also, don’t forget that when the Horde is asked to target something, they do so randomly (ala Disease Carriers and Ravenous Rats).

You’ll notice two new twists in this Horde decklist.

First are the poison counters.  You have to beat the Rat Horde deck before the entire city is doomed to disease.  Every time a poison counter is flipped, it adds to the poison total.  10 poison counters means game over.

Secondly, I’ve been experimenting with ways to buff Horde decks in different ways, and in this deck I am trying out using Sorin’s emblem.  The card plays like a token, so it triggers another flip and buffs the rats permanently.  From my experience, anthem-esque effects are great for Horde decks because they increase the difficulty over the course of the game to scale with the survivors being able to cast bigger and better spells.   This is especially important seeing as the rats are 1/1s versus other, bigger tokens.

While I am also including Bad Moon as a hedge, I want to stop using that card as a crutch to help scale up my black Horde decks, but I haven’t found a way that I am in love with yet.

This list comes with the normal caveats: your mileage might vary depending on which decks you choose to play with when battling the Rat Horde.  Some levers you can pull to make the deck harder or weaker are to add or remove discard spells or some bigger spells like an additional Plague Wind or Barter in Blood.

Horde Deck ideas

Here are some more cool ideas for Horde decks that you might consider building:

  1. Pirate themed Horde deck.  While there aren’t any pirate tokens, you can battle against various blue tokens such as Merfolk and Drakes while also trying to reclaim the high seas from nefarious pirates
  2. Goblin Horde deck – lots of goodies to work with here.
  3. Goats.  They seem so innocent at first.   Until they get super buffed with Glorious Anthems, various awesome enchant creatures and equipment, and – dare I say it – a Domri Rade emblem?
  4. Assassin Horde deck.  A six-pack of beer to the first person who can make an awesome and balanced Horde deck based on the deadly assassin token.
  5. Squirrels – Who wants to live in a world overrun by these pesky critters?

If you are just getting into Horde Magic right now, I suggest you start with the basic Zombie Horde but build it from scratch.  Zombies work very well for this format, and there are a lot interesting card choices.  Try to learn the balance between the number of tokens in the list, the ratio of random effects to random creatures, and you can also experiment with new ideas without having to worry about too many variables at once.

Wrapping Up

From the Raid variant and the idea of crafting a story for your Horde deck, I think that it goes to show that there are still many different ways one could take Horde Magic going forward.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas in the comments or on twitter (@mtg_pete).  I’ll make sure to stop in again when I make any new breakthroughs.

Till next time!

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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