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: 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 (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: 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: 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: 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"


57 thoughts on “Horde Magic: An Open Source Project

  1. Not sure I agree with some of those bans… like Urabarsk? I mean I guess he is a pain to the horde, but he surely doesn't beat them. I mean they have sweepers and smallpox and noxious ghoul and whatever else… Same with time stretch? If there is ever a place for time stretch it's when multiple players are desperately trying to stay alive from a zombie horde.

    1. Urabrask is way too good. Not only does he basically time walk the Horde every turn, he also allows you to deal infinite amounts of damage to the Horde and essentially beat them almost ASAP. Time Stretch I suppose has enough variance, but I've never seen people lose after casting it in multiplayer games

      1. Agreed about Urabrask being way too good against the horde deck (no targeted removal makes it rough).

        I would think Battletide Alchemist (watch everyone go look up what that does) and Hedron Field Purists are problems for the Horde deck as well.
        Weakstone, Bone Flute, "Crovax, Ascendant Hero" (and Ascendant Evincar against non-black hoards), Fyndhorn Pollen, "Meishin, the Mind Cage", Night of Souls' Betrayal, Stronghold Taskmaster, Urborg Shambler all look like silver bullets to me.

        1. If you wish to run these cards against the horde, give the horde Bane of Progress and Kederekt Leviathan. Novablast Wurm, Hythonia the Cruel or Bearer of the Heavens would also work. Most of these guys are worth next to nothing moneywise.

  2. Agreed with Virtualalex… and you need to ban Extirpate, Isolation cell, Norn's Annex, voidstone gargoyle, nevermore, meddling mage, pyrostatic pillar, orim's prayer, cumber stone, conjurer's ban, isochron scepter, and probably a lot more.

  3. Norn's Annex doesn't work vs the horde the deck has infinite mana same with Isolation cell. No bans needed. Why are you trying to ban cards like Meddling Mage, nevermore and gargoyle? Are you afraid people will name Zombie token? Because the zombie tokens are never "cast" so they can be played fine just fine. Naming single other zombie cards isn't a big deal, if the deck tries to play them they just go into the graveyard and you could either keep flipping till the next spell, or say it's countered and done. Same with Pyroclastic Pillar

    Why ban Orim's prayer or Cumber stone? Most zombies are 2/2+

    Conjurer's ban? A 1-shot meddling mage needs to be banned?

  4. Banned list is probably smart, but it makes me less excited to try the format because I have to rebuild decks to do it (I only play and build EDH). Perhaps the 'banned' list becomes an Auto-Cycle list (cards on this list can't be played but have Cycling 1 but they are exiled). That probably wont' work because some jerk will just put them all in to thin out the deck or something.

    Or it's a "Zombie Don't Care" list: Cards in a 'horde' deck ignore the effects of these cards. Thus you could still play Urabrask to haste your dudes, but Zombies don't care. You still get an 8/8 that's unblockable with Stormtide (and your non flying swimmers are treading water) but the Horde just shambles on the seafloor.

    1. Well – I don't think you need to rebuild your decks – you can just cycle cards that are banned or autowin. Basically, which is more unfun: not being able to cast a card in your deck, just just playing one of those cards and just ending the game right there. I like what you're saying with the Zombies don't care idea – how would that work. Like global effects don't affect Zombies? That means no Moat, Caltrops, etc. Are there any negative ramifications to this rule?

    2. I really like the "Zombies don't care" idea. It seems like a more elegant and flavorful solution to some of the dumb locks. Even the inefective global effects sounds very clean.
      Mill is my big concern, though. I have a BUG deck that mills everyone for fun and profit (NOT Mimeoplasm – I said "fun AND profit"). I haven't tried yet, but theoretically it's an unplayable match-up 🙁 Having just 1 opponent for my targeted mill (not the banlist mill) is just busted.

  5. I would be curious to hear your thoughts regarding the rules addition several people have made that you can attack the horde deck in order to mill it. I like the dynamic as it encourages more interaction, but it seems like it drops the difficulty level substantially.

    1. That was how I originally played the Horde deck, but it was definitely missing something. It made it harder, for sure, but in the end of the day Magic is about attacking your opponents. I would have hoped that attacking the Horde happened later, and maybe there is a better solution to combat than milling, but it makes the most sense to me and I stand by the notion that making the horde deck stronger can solve balance issues.

  6. I'm really taking a liking to the format and having a common sense banned list to stop any card that auto defeats the hoard (or at least practically does) is definitely necessary.

    In place of a lot of the bannings we could have a rule along the lines of- "Zombies are unaffected by any static effect that would prevent them from attacking" (the static part being important so that cards like a Kicked Orim's Chant which prevent a single turns attack would still be able to work).

    Another card that should be added to the banned list(even if we added the new rule) is Lightmine Field (Rise of the Eldrazi rare white enchantment that deals damage to attacking creatures equal to the number of attacking creatures).

      1. Some static effects need to work. Sure milling is a problem, but it is mostly limited to Black and Blue decks. Static effects are abundant in many deck types.
        To put it simply: there is a difference between mitigation and annihilation. Mitigation allows games to continue to be playable. Annihilation locks in a winner. The games that are the most fun are the games where the win feels earned due to the power struggle.

  7. I'm building a soldier horde deck under the theme of the Major clash of armies (The wide ranks of the "horde" versus the underdog of the few powerful mages). My main issue, which is mentioned briefly here, is that Soldier tokens are 1/1s. I know I can include cards like Crovax (Ascendant Hero, not the other) and the Armor/Weaponsmiths, but I was also wondering if I shouldn't just increase the deck size as well, mainly by adding more tokens to the 55 number.
    The players I play with think themselves rather skilled magic players, so I am already including a few cards that I entirely hope make us all groan when they show up. Any suggestions are welcome.

    1. You may want to consider an increased % of tokens because they are 1/1s, meaning more will come up on average. Crusade works as a pump effect, as does the Weaponsmiths as you mentioned. Guardian's pledge is a good 1shot pump effect which I think works well in Horde Magic. As for big fatties – Humility is interesting because it messes with everyone, maybe Winter Orb.

    1. Side note: Someoe casts Mind's Aglow and makes every player draw. What does the horde do with all of those cards, or does it draw at all? I think it would be kinda scary if on its turn it cast its normal spells, then everything in its hand.

  8. Hi Peter thanks for create and share the Horde Magic. When I saw it the first time ( the first Horde Magic article) i liked it so much that I wanted a way to play a similar game at Magic Online. But thats is impossible to play with the same game design (at magic online) cause of the fliping cards, tokens in deck and mill damage. So inspired in your Horde Magic I have created my own Zombie game in Magic Online (named "Zombie Survival"), some things are similar to Horde Magic but others are pretty different and the game have its own rules. It's pretty fun and I really wanted to share this creation with you cause your Horde Magic inspired me to create Zombie Survival. Created a few weeks ago and until now I'm refining and testing what works and what don't works but i think that now I have the structure that i wanted to the game. I waited until I get something consistent and balanced. I created recently a group community (have no posts) but this weekend i will create a special thread at the game forum with all the rules, deck, gameplay and others things. Without your article I would never have created Zombie Survival so I really wanted you to see the game and even join the group. =)

    the group url is:

    it doesn't have no posts until now but I will do during this weekend =)

    and one more time thanks for creating/sharing Horde Magic

  9. This is a deck I made to go against the Horde. Explains most of my views on it. I love the game style. For Horde gaining life we just reversed milled. We did 100 cards with two people, and added 50 cards for 3. Also and a lot more board wipes like damnation and plague wind, without those the survivor board just gets overpowered. Having the Survivors just defend was brought up, but that would prolly just make the game last too long. Anyway, here is the link

  10. I think the hoard needs to ignore negative global static effects (weakstone or moat for example, but also not play them). Also have you considered something like building a Hoard deck of ~30 cards, then adding 30 tokens per survivor? It would make the deck scale to player count better as more player would result in more zombies per turn, not just a longer game. Obviously something like 27 2/2 Zombies and 3 5/5 zombies per player. Small changes to the player count would be reasonable to accomplish this way, but resetting the deck would take a bit of sorting (but not too bad).

    Also do the zombie tokens stay in the graveyard (and thus come back when you cast Living Death)?

    1. and the right balance of that scaling might be more like 40 core cards + 20 tokens per player, which would get you to a 3 player game of 100 cards, 60 of them tokens rather then a 4 player game of that, but I have seen a number of people complaining that it is too easy at 4+ players…

    1. Yeah!

      Actually making it harder rather than just longer is a great way to go.

      I like the idea of not knowing exactly what spells are in the deck though, so maybe have 10 more spells than you need, remove 10 at random, then add tokens and shuffle?

      In any case, your idea will take more time to work out the best numbers for but seems the better choice by far (and allows easy adjustment of difficulty – add more zombies!).

  11. We found Sword of Mind and Body to really hurt the horde, as well as effects like Seedborn Muse which allow youre heavy hitters do both offend and defend.

  12. Hey Peter,

    You said you were looking for someone to make a squirrel horde deck? How does this look?

    60Squirrel Tokens
    1Doubling season
    2Derranged Hermit
    2Coat of Arms
    1Parallel Lives
    2Doubling Chant
    3Nut Collector
    2Acorn Harvest
    1Parallel Evolution
    2Chatter of the Squirrel
    2Nantuko Shrine
    4Squirrel Mob
    2Primal Rage
    2Echoing Courage
    2Scion of the Wild
    2Adaptive Automaton
    2Krosan Beast
    2Boneyard Wurm

  13. Ban
    Timesifter – this is an auto lose for the horde

    Abyssal persecuter – watched a guy donate this to horde and game over.

    Confusion in the ranks – another. Way to really through the horde into easy mode.

    Let you know if I find more .

  14. Angelic Arbiter – Ban it.

    Iona, Shield of Emeria – Ban it also.

    The zombie deck can't fight Iona, and no deck can make the unbiased decision required of the Arbiter.

  15. To prevent a extreme easy game, my group plays without life gaining, just revover till max value(example: 4 players will have 60 life points so u can always go to 60 again but not beyond this value)

    I create a crazy singleton version, all the nontoken cards have just one copy it provides more surprises and when a strong card goes to graveyard it's like "YEAH" 😛

    So can we expect more "official" articles from the creator of horde magic?

    1. A zombie is a dead creature full of diseased and rotting flesh. likely a sespool of bacteria and germs. In my opinion. they are already poisioned. I'm thinking infect just simply has no effect.

    2. My play group makes poison counters emblems that cause the loss of 1 life during the upkeep. Then again, my horde is over 500 cards, so 20 poison counters doesn’t do quite as much to mine as it would a 100 card horde.

  16. I've started playing Zombie Hoard and like it. I think it should stick to another Standard Magic rule though. I think when a zombie token dies it should not go into the Hoards graveyard it should just be removed from the game. that seems to make more sense to me and is more in line with typical rules. It makes cards that rely on "number of cards in all graveyards" or cards that shuffle all graveyards in libraries more normal Im my opinion. It also takes surgical extraction off the banned list. What do you guys think? I have also played around with adding "Grimoire of the Dead" to the Hoard deck as it totally suits the flavour, and just automatically tap it and add a counter each turn until it gets enough counters and then execute it. With Tokens in the graveyard this is ridiculous. Without tokens in the graveyard it is awesome. nothing like animating your enemies fallen friends to fight against them. thats what makes zombies scary and awesome!

  17. also additional rule suggestion. I think in addition to haste all zombie hoard tokens should have trample. brainless zombies just keep going. they don't care if your dead, if they have strength to continue attacking they keep attacking. Plus I have found that a simple Palace Guard wearing Darksteel armour is a game ender. you automatically win with this combination without trample. you just block everyone with palace guard. who dosn;t get destryed and then attack with your remaining guys. until the deck is gone. then defend with your leftovers to end the game. If you have trample however.. the guard can block as many guys as he wants.. but the damage still comes through. I think it balances that out while keeping the flavour of zombies. Any thoughts on that?

    1. Balance-wise, I haven't tried this so I can't comment. Flavor-wise, though… zombies don't just kill you and keep walking. They stop to eat your brains! And if you refuse to die, they'll just keep biting you forever; zombies have no concept of futility.

      1. Horde trample in large numbers ends the game super quickly, especially when zombie giants are considered puny to the horde’s real powerhouses.
        In my testing, trample is feasible without haste. Trample with haste in large numbers becomes comparable to first strike with deathtouch: acceptable on one but overpowering when applied to all.

  18. Would it be too drastic a change to implement a wave system? Like waves that last for, say, 10 turns, with zombies gaining power and numbers each wave? Lords, pumps, things like deathtouch and maybe even equipment?

    First wave would be just 2/2’s, second wave 3/3 with cemetery reaper, 3rd maybe Lord of the undead added, then Death Baron and finally Diregraf Captain?

    I haven’t fleshed it out obv., but in my mind it seems nice.

    1. My group doesn’t use waves, but I’ve heard only positive things from groups that do. If you want to suggest it to your group, let them know that it has been widely received by those who have tried it.

  19. ramon mtg in 10 turns you're dead or u already milled the entire horde deck
    i did my home version, the deck gots 55 tokens 5 giante tokens and another 40 singleton cards, with 27 different zombies and 13 spells(sorcery, instant and wicked enchatments precisely)

    by the way, where's recent discussion? just me and ramon here?

    1. If the game is too short, make the horde deck bigger. Use more than just Zombies. Think of what Emrakul must of done to Innistrad. She was controlling all types of creatures! Now that was some horde!

  20. add to ban list Undercity informer ,instant win. Or you can add to the rule that the hordes library and graveyard are not affe cted by any spells or abilitie controled by the survivors, so like sword of body and mind, exterpate, traumatize etc… wont work.

  21. A nice combo I came across for use by the horde deck is Grave Betrayal and No Mercy. Even just Grave Betrayal with Plague Wind increases the difficulty a bit… opinions?

  22. I see Volcanic Awakening listed in the cat horde deck…how does the Storm mechanic work for the horde? As they only draw till one non-token is drawn, would the tokens count or would it only fire once? Seems a card that only leads to one land destruction could be replaced for something more interesting, unless of course the tokens count. Anyone know? I can’t find anything about it. Thanks.

  23. This format is super fun. Thanks for making it and keeping it going.

    I have two questions:

    1) When the horde tokens die, are they in the graveyard, or are they removed like tokens in competitive magic? If they are in the graveyard it makes cards like Lhurgoyf and Scavenging Ooze extremely powerful.

    2) As some people discussed earlier, should each point of lifegain result in a zombie card added to the bottom of their deck? I like using Grove of the Burnwillows and Fiery Justice but they feel too powerful if their drawbacks are negated.

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  26. I found a way around Trepanation Blade, which shaped the way my group plays Horde Magic. We made nontokenbacking cards “stopper” cards. If there is an effect that would be endless on the Horde like Trepanation Blade, Grindstone, or the endless activation of Bloodchief Ascension, the effect stops there.
    We took the stopper cards a bit further and made the rule that if a stopper card would be sent to the graveyard by the loss of life by the horde, it would instead be placed in the horde’s hand and the next card would take its place(yes, this would mean all stopper cards would go to the hand instead of graveyard in terms of life loss. Milling would include stopper cards traditionally, unless in an endless scenario, at which point the stack would lower down to and include the first stopper card in the trip to the graveyard).
    The horde’s hand would always be played instead of the traditional method of the horde starting its turn, assuming the hand is not empty. This means that if the survivors lay the smackdown on the horde, the horde will have the resources to rise to the occasion.
    Now of course, this method means that cards such as Living Death and Mnemonic Nexus could never fit in my horde, but this does grant more challenges and also allows decks that utilize discarding to actually be useful.
    It is good to see a banlist. I have one card to add for both horde and survivors: Consuming Aberration. Even with the stopper rules, this creature still wrecks the horde singlehandedly. Put it into the horde and well, there are NO survivors. In that note I tried Pontiff of Blight and Cathar’s Crusade in the horde and removed them the first turn they did anything, because the result was that broken.
    Other banlist/rulings to look into are instant game loss/winning and life total doctoring. My group plays these as having no effect on the horde. Infect/Poison counters work differently for our group’s horde too: a poison counter is viewed as an emblem that reads “at the beginning of your upkeep, lose a life.” This still keeps infect decks powerful, but not capable of defeating the horde solo on the infect deck’s fourth turn. This also allows the horde deck to utilize infect creatures (which should still be used sparingly if at all) without the worry of them prematurely wiping out all the survivors.

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