Insider: Khans of Tarkir Set Review – The Mardu Horde and Red

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The Mardu Horde worships the Dragon Aspect of Speed, which is symbolized in the Mardu’s Wings of the Dragon. Mardu is based around the color red, the fastest and most aggressive color in Magic, and so Mardu is the most aggressive of the five Clans of Tarkir.

The Mardu Horde embodies the color Red, including all of its its impulsivity and chaos. The white side of the Mardu Horde adds elements of the Boros Legion, including it’s brutal efficiency and zeal for justice. The black side of the wedge adds elements of the Cult of Rakdos, including its bloodlust and thirst for power.

Mardu's keyword ability is Raid, which triggers if its controller attacked with a creature earlier that turn. Keyword abilities tend to be geared for limited play, but the most powerful of the bunch could appear in Standard.

Mardu features cheap, efficient creatures, many with haste. No card embodies the Mardu Horde more than its Khan, Zurgo Helmsmasher.

Zurgo Helmsmasher


This card is purely aggressive and, to the point, a straightforward card that represents the core principles of the Mardu Horde. Zurgo Helmsmasher has Haste, so it nearly always comes into play attacking. With seven power, it hits extremely hard. It’s indestructible on its controller’s turn, so it will cut down blockers when attacking. The last clause is a Sengir Vampire-style effect that grows the creature each time it damages and destroys a creature, so Zurgo Helmsmasher will only grow larger when confronted with chump blockers.

One way to permanently deal with a resolved Zurgo Helmsmasher is targeted creature removal, but it’s only effective after the legendary creature has already had a turn to attack. This makes Zurgo Helmsmasher a relatively low-risk investment and a card that is very likely to create some sort of value. It’s a card that will quickly destroy an opponent if left unanswered. It provides a huge amount of reach and topdeck power, so I see it being an ideal top-end finisher for a Mardu aggro deck in Standard.

The legend rule will temper its popularity a bit, but I can’t imagine that a Mardu aggro deck will not want at least a couple copies of Zurgo Helmsmasher somewhere in its seventy-five.

As far as pricing goes, this is a mythic rare so it demands a premium and will never drop to bulk rare status, but it's also a costly legend that won't be used in playset quantities. I don't expect the price to fall much lower than it's pre-order price of $3, but I also foresee very little upside. Also keep in mind that this card is available in Duel Decks: Speed vs Cunning.

Butcher of the Horde


Butcher of the Horde is the de-facto four-of finisher for Standard Mardu decks.

The raw stats on this card are huge: as a 5/4 flying creature for 4 mana. It's comparable to Desecration Demon, but it’s much more reliable. The sacrifice ability is pure gravy--the creature already has flying, which is the most important ability in a creature-centric metagame, but the options for vigilance, lifelink, and haste are all quite useful and will be highly impactful in specific game states.

The option to sacrifice multiple creatures to enable plays like vigilance+lifelink+attack, then lifelink after blocking make Butcher of the Horde a powerhouse on both offense and defense, and it's very difficult to race. The ability to gain haste makes it an unseen threat that will take opponents by surprise and may end games quickly.

It's my pick for the most important Mardu card and the centerpiece of the Horde’s competitive Standard aspirations. As a sure 4-of, it will be highly desirable.

On the other hand, it's just a rare in set that will be opened en masse because of fetchland mania. SCG is out of stock at $5, but on ebay there are some of Buy-It-Now playsets available for $16 and plenty of comparable auctions.

I think the card will maintain a $4-5 pricetag at shops and in trades during the initial release. If Mardu becomes a top Standard deck early on, I could see Butcher of the Horde becoming one of the initial desirable cards in the set and reaching a price of $7-8 before slowly settling back down to the $3-4 range as the set is continually opened. If Mardu falls from grace or never reaches the top tier at all, this card will likely be be worth $2 or less a few months after the release. In that case, I'd look to acquire them cheaply, in advance of a new set potentially bringing the card back into the spotlight sometime during Khan's run in Standard.

Ankle Shanker


Five mana for a 3/3 creature is not a great rate, and Ankle Shanker doesn’t do much to actually kill the opponent by itself.

What it does do is push attackers through defenders, and it will be gamebreaking when relevant. Providing deathtouch and first strike, it will send even the smallest attackers through the most robust defenders. It will serve as a great top-end for a rush Mardu deck, where it will push the Horde of small creatures.

This is a niche ability that seems relatively narrow, but in practice I expect Mardu to take the aggressive role in every matchup, and opponents will be blocking at all opportunity. Simply put, Ankle Shanker shuts down blockers.

It’s certainly desirable against creatures like Courser of Kruphix and Sylvan Caryatid. Ankle Shanker will see maindeck play or will fill sideboard slots in aggressive rush Mardu decks.

This card presales for $0.50, and I just don't see it ever commanding more than $1 until Khans of Tarkir is out of print.

Mardu Charm


Mardu Charm combines a creature removal spell, an instant-speed Duress, and a token-generator with combat trick potential. The first mode is a clean damage-based removal spell that will kill essentially any creature that costs 3 or less, including many format staples. This ability will be the most commonly played part of the Charm and defines its Standard playability.

The discard spell gives the Charm the ability to disrupt hands and proactively interact with the opponent. Together with the first ability, this makes Mardu Charm a versatile and powerful piece of disruption.

The ability to generate two token creatures is a great option when the opponent has nothing to disrupt and simply needs to be killed, so this ability makes the Mardu Charm the total package. This ability also has versatility in combat as a surprise blocker, and there is a lot of value in its ability to keep scared attackers at home.

This card presales for a $1, and I think that's a fine price. With so many packs being opened, the true value is probably a bit lower, but the entire Charm cycle is certainly the premium uncommon cycle of the set and should sit above the rest. For a cheap price, I'd aggressively acquire these Charms when trading or buying stacks of cards, and I'd move them at a premium.

The long-term eternal possibilities of these charms is low, but once we stop drafting this set, the price will only rise.

Mardu Ascendancy


Mardu Ascendancy works well with the rush of aggressive creatures that the Mardu Horde will surely employ. Every nontoken attacker will generate a free token each turn, which will quickly snowball out of hand and bury an opponent that's already on the backfoot. The enchantment plays well with Mardu’s ability to sacrifice creatures, including Butcher of the Horde.

The second ability on Mardu Ascendancy makes it function like a Seal-style card as a proactive measure against mass-removal spells like Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow.

Mardu Ascendancy rewards aggression, and it comes with the ability to protect aggressive decks from the board sweepers that counteract the strategy. This makes it a truly powerful and useful card and one I expect to see plenty of in the future, whether it be as a maindeck centerpiece abusing the first ability or sideboard option against control decks as a card advantage engine or solution to creature toughness-based board sweepers.

I'd pick them up around a $1 or less. Once players realize how strong the card actually is, I expect it to settle somewhere around a couple dollars. It might never actually rise, but I don't think this will ever see the true bulk bin.

Crackling Doom


Crackling Doom demonstrates the values of the Mardu Horde. It’s a clean way to remove opposing creature while maintaining pressure as a burn spell. It reminds me like a fixed version of Hit / Run, a card widely embraced by Rakdos Standard decks of the era.

This card is extremely punishing when its controller is ahead on board, but it’s also a way to regain a foothold from behind. This card is also much stronger than a typical edict-effect because it ignores the problem of the opponent sacrificing their weakest creature: Crackling Doom specifically eliminates their creature with the highest power.

It's sold out of SCG at $2, while it's available on eBay for around $1.5. This card is very good, and as players realize that fact the card is going to see more and more play and become highly desirable. I could see this card doubling or tripling in price if Mardu decks quickly establish themselves post-rotation.

Ponyback Brigade


Although only a common, this card lands somewhere between Siege-Gang Commander and Thelonite Hermit. It's a strong card and one I would not be surprised to see in Standard. History has taught us that tokens are quite useful, and often a mass of tokens is more powerful than a single large creature. This card will be best when the tokens can be abused through sacrifice or anthem-effects, so Ponyback Brigade has a bright future in Standard decks built to harness its potential.

I suppose it has long-term commander and casual value, so don't just throw it away, but it will be worth pennies as long as it's in print.


Analyzing Mardu in Standard goes deeper than just the three-colored wedge cards. The next logical place to look is Red, which serves as the core of the Mardu Wedge and provides numerous tools:

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker


This card is the real deal and a defining pillar of the Standard metagame. Read what I have to say about Sarkhan, Dragonmaster in last week’s article.

It's sold out of SCG for $25, and completed eBay auctions put it somewhere between $15 on the low end and $20 on the high-end. This is one of the best and most desirable cards in the set, and, as a mythic planeswalker, will always demand a premium.

I like the $15 tag and I don't see the card falling a lot more than that, especially because this may even be used as a playset in a variety of decks. Though if the set is really opened in huge numbers and the card fails to live up to expectations, it could theoretically fall below $10, but that is unlikely. In the longterm I could see this settling around $20, but after Theros block rotates out of Standard this could conceivably go right up to $30.

Arc Lightning


This is a throwback from the overpowered Urza's Saga set. Arc Lightning is quite powerful because it’s capable of a three-for-one against against rush aggressive strategies. In other situations it will function like an Arc Trail, but it’s also capable of doming the opponent for three damage.

This is also another burn spell to add redundancy to and relieve some pressure from the premier red burn spell in Standard, Lightning Strike.

This is a sweet card with longterm upside, so it's one I'll be scrounging for after drafts!

Hordeling Outburst


Hordeling Outburst is a more powerful version of Dragon Fodder, and I expect it to see even more play than that card ever did. Hordeling Outburst is a bonafide “army in a can” that creates three tokens to be buffed or even sacrificed. This is a key-role player in any Standard token strategy and a card I expect it to be a staple until it rotates from the format if that deck surfaces.

I think this card has great longterm casual value.



This card blows my mind, and when I first saw it I could hardly believe it was real. This is essentially a fixed version of Young Pyromancer, given that it generates tokens from instants and sorceries, but it does require mana.

On the other hand, it’s not a creature and it will be difficult to remove while it threatens to generate value turn-after-turn. Goblinslide also triggers from artifacts and enchantments, so it will even trigger from additional Goblinslides being cast!

This card screams for a chance to be built around, and I believe the right deck could put this card in the top-tier of Standard. The biggest negative to this card is the cost. It requires an investment of four mana before it yields its first token, meaning it’s slow to get started.

I love this for casual play, and it seems like a shoe-in for a lot of commander decks.

Monastery Swiftspear


This card is not quite the new Goblin Guide, but it’s reasonable by itself and could get out of hand with the right shell of noncreature spells around it.

This technically has some explosive combo potential in older formats like Modern (think Nivemagus Elemental) or even Legacy, so I might store some away for the future.

Jeering Instigator


I am a huge fan of Threaten-style effects, and as Standard Magic evolves towards a creature-focus, this effect grows even better.

The real issue is that this ability is narrow in the sense that it only works against some decks, even then only being good in some situations. On the other hand, this effect is incredibly powerful and offers an immense tempo boost and increased damage potential in some situations. Putting this ability on a creature provides all of the benefits of the effect without the downside.

Placing it on a 2/1 1R ensures the creature will be the highlight, while the Threaten appears only when necessary. The ability to morph the creature as a way to pre-empt an opposing play is great, while in lategame situations, Jeering Instigator can simply be treated as a 6-mana spell.

This is pretty close to a bulk rare, but casual popularity should keep it afloat.

Howl of the Horde


This card is very powerful and a whole lot of fun. Check out my last article for a deeper look into Howl of the Horde.

This presells for $1, and I don't see it moving much higher than that. It will always live above bulk status, but the longterm prospects for cards like this is never very positive.

Crater's Claws


An X-spell is always something to consider for an aggressive deck, so it has some place in Mardu decks. X=spells are not efficient in the early game, but they scale up in power towards the lategame where they serve as a mana-sink and offer an incredible form of reach.

The Ferocious ability is not tailored for Mardu, but it plays well with undercosted Mardu killers like Butcher of the Horde and Zurgo Helmsmasher. Because it's not efficient, I don't expect to see a ton of Crater's Claws in hyper-aggressive Mardu decks, but it might be popular in midrange or control-oriented Mardu strategies.

This is a step above bulk-rare status longterm, but as long as it's Standard legal, it will sit somewhere between $0.50-1.

Beyond red, there are also some interesting Orzhov cards for Mardu:

Utter End


This is a very powerful and versatile removal spell, which makes it especially valuable for control decks that must answer any and all permanents.

On the other hand, this card is not efficient and it competes with quality removal spells that do much of the same thing, but for much cheaper--notably Banishing Light and Hero's Downfall. I don’t think this card will see a ton of widespread play, but it will see use as a way to diversify and add utility to a wider removal package.

This card is getting a lot of hype, but in reality it's not comparable to the most efficient removal in Standard. I think the $6 preorder pricetag at SCG is heinous, though eBay auctions show the price somewhere between $3-4. This price will hold during set release, but I expect this to settle somewhere around $2-3 before sliding even lower.

Sorin, Solemn Visitor


This planeswalker is quite powerful. It’s tailor made for a rush aggressive deck.

It has two main abilities: one that’s a temporary anthem, and one that generates flying 2/2 vampire tokens. The first ability is great on a full board, while the second ability is excellent for building an army.

The card will never be dead and will always useful in some way--the hallmark of a strong card. The ultimate ability comes quickly, and once active it will put immense pressure on the opponent’s board, so Sorin, Solemn Visitor also demands attention from the opponent.

It’s the total package for a planeswalker and it's a solid roleplayer I expect to see plenty of Standard play. It's not as widely accessible or as powerful as Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and its price should react accordingly. It has a SCG presale price of $15 and it eBays for around $10-12 a copy.

This one will probably look like Jace, Architect of Thought and sit somewhere around $10 or less unless it takes off, in which case it could double in price sometime over the next year.

Chief of the EdgeChief of the Scale

Chief-of-the-Edge-Khans-of-Tarkir-Spoiler Chief-of-the-Scale-Khans-of-Tarkir-Spoiler

These two creatures are interesting because they scale up and thrive with synergy.

If Monoblue Devotion taught the world anything, it’s that synergy has a very important place in Standard, and aggressive creature decks that employ synergy can ride to the top of the field. This point seems especially important now that Standard lost its best sweeper in Supreme Verdict. These creatures are two-drops with a fine rate on mana to power/toughness, so they stand well on their own. These cards are really only as good as the Warrior’s that accompany them, but given the right shell and metagame, I could imagine them seeing a lot of play.


What Mardu cards are you excited about? Are there any homebrewers out there that have a decklist to share? Turn to the comments!


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