Stitched in the Middle with You

Posted in Serious Fun on February 28, 2012

Last week's return to Horde Magic was awesome. The email inbox, Twitter mentions, and forum responses were loaded with ideas, critiques, and feedback. Everyone has a slightly different view of having fun with the Horde, and it's in mixing and matching these perspectives that you can craft your local pile of Zombies into exactly what you need.

We'll be hitting three topics in no particular order:

  • House Rules and Housing Players
  • Tips, Tricks, and Tech
  • Hoarding the Horde

May Avacyn watch over us.

    House Rules and Housing Players

The number-one issue raised across all perspectives was that the general Horde felt pretty weak. Forum poster Newana summed it up well:

So, last time Horde Magic was revealed, a bunch of our casual group got really excited. Three different people put together Horde decks (two Zombies and a 5-color Elemental deck too). We tried them all out a few times, each with a variety of different players and decks.

Not a single one of the 5 games was even close to close. The worst example, ending life total of the 4 Survivors was 250. We took a total of 13 damage, 7 of which was self-inflicted.

And all of this was with the following two changes—no three free turns for the survivors. Survivors go first, Horde is after you from the start. And if the Horde deck hits a nontoken first, keep revealing until you hit a token (we were playing closer to 40 tokens per deck, not 60).

Again, even with those changes to increase the Horde power, the games weren't even close. It felt similar to the problems we've had with Archenemy—either the heroes get rolling and never have a problem, or the archenemy gets rolling and never feels any threat.

I've felt this problem keenly. In the demo game with the updated Horde, my friend and I battle together with just 40 life against the entire Horde itself. While we had a few very dicey moments, the game certainly tipped completely in our favor once our decks were firing at full power.

How and what to change in your Horde is a very detailed discussion. There are two reasons why fighting the Horde often feels this way.

1. Your Decks Are Too Powerful

I love wacky decks with tenuous conditions of victory that rely on hard-to-assemble contraptions of cards. I also love decks teeming with Demonic Tutor derivatives and an entire kitchen sink of things that will "answer" anything opponents throw out there. In truth, most of my decks are a mix of each extreme, often leaning further to the "wacky good fun" than many of you prefer.

Or, as Sarroth asks:

Specifically building a deck to go against the Horde deck seems like a really awful idea and should be avoided at all costs. I stopped reading the article after I read that you played An-Zerrin Ruins and chose Zombies. Seriously, how is the format supposed to be anything like Left 4 Dead when you have easy anti-Zombie tech?

To restate, when you bring a loaded gun full of silver bullets did you expect a serious challenge?

I don't mean that to be a rhetorical question. Answers are awesome things to have. Being able to stop, counteract, or prevent something terrible (for you) from happening is the intrinsic appeal of running them. But if you planned to be prepared for anything from the onset, what outcome did you expect to encounter?

It's a delicate balance only you and your fellow players can discuss and agree too. I compare preparing for the Horde to how I approach parties in roleplaying games: I don't always form parties to go dragon hunting, but when I do I come fully prepared. The idea that certain cards are too powerful is entirely subjective. I feel that since the Horde is breaking several fundamental rules of Magic, getting to break out some anti-Zombie gear is entirely reasonable. I chose to self-limit it's availability in my red deck since I only had two such spells and only one way to go grab it at will (which was a Gamble in itself).

Of course, what constitutes "too powerful" is also dependent upon another aspect of Horde Magic.

2. The Horde is Too Weak

Unless it's something your group genuinely wants to explore, the Horde should be beatable. The Horde should be powerful, surprising, and able to put the fear of death into your fellow players, but it shouldn't be a rigged deathtrap that is inescapable.

The format was designed with natural limiters built in:

  • Play only one nontoken card each turn.
  • Includes a significant percentage of nontoken cards in the Horde.
  • Take damage by having cards removed from the Horde's library.

The Horde is meant to lose. What's the point of an adventure if it's destined for failure?

That, too, isn't a rhetorical question. There is a very real temptation to just pile in everything that blows away the Survivor's defenses (just as the idea of banning anything that efficiently fights the Horde comes up too), but I think there is a balance to be struck. Beefing up the Horde decks seems appropriate when your fellow players want to go against powerful decks. You can always adjust things later as needed, but I've definitely found it much more difficult to ask others to "depower" their decks.

In fact, it usually feels bad to think about ways to make our decks "worse." We always love the cards we wanted to play!

    Tips, Tricks, and Tech

Since taking things out of our decks isn't the preferred way to handle the Horde differential (though it can be if you choose!), let's look at some awesome options to add in.

C5r1a5z0y posted this on the forums, but the card in question was suggested repeatedly by others as well:

Aww, no Noxious Ghoul? Could be a pretty good Wrath effect for the Zombies. Bring your spot removal...

Yeah. I can get behind this. The Horde never has mana issues, so spells like Plague Wind and Decree of Pain are never an issue. Those spells are also boring. Zombies eat brains (and players), and Noxious Ghoul is a step in the right direction: it will do some serious damage to non-Zombie creatures (namely, the Survivors) while still getting to attack.

I might or might not have tried to trade for a foil Noxious Ghoul last weekend at Grand Prix Baltimore.

The Horde should include Bone Harvest, Footbottom Feast, and the functional reprint in Dark Ascension. That would be pretty nuts.

Zindaras shared this idea in the forum, and I have to say I was thrown for a loop. Since the Horde casts one "nontoken" spell each turn, what benefit would these have for the shamblers?

The answer is a little more obvious if we adapt the Horde to make it work! If we assume the Horde has some intelligence, we can certainly add cards that get better on reuse:

And if you're able to reload the Horde and have it cast multiple spells, something like Graveborn Muse can become a very devious and powerful addition. After all, the Horde doesn't lose if it can't draw a card!

Josh W. emailed to note that Archdemon of Unx seemed to stand out in a bad way.

A good replacement for the Archdemon is Vulturous Zombie. It might not have the initial sting that the Archdemon has, but it can get big over time (and it flies).

I like the Archdemon because it causes the Survivors to have to sacrifice a creature. Sometimes it's easy to sit behind a fortified, indestructible creature with protection from black. Sacrifice effects are one way for the Horde to hammer home.

Sacrificing the Archdemon on the Horde's next turn feels awkward, though. While you can just fudge the rules to skip that part, changing things to something that just works is often better. I like Vulturous Zombie, and since I've already stretched the color base to include some blue, the spice of green shouldn't hurt either.

Speaking of color splashed, Dan emailed a colorful addition as well.

A pairing of Endless Ranks of the Dead with Paradox Haze.

So you're saying you wanted a math problem? Okay.

  • Endless Ranks of the Dead adds X/2 Zombie tokens to the battlefield, where X is the current number of Zombies in play.
  • With Paradox Haze, Endless Ranks of the Dead will trigger and resolve again, adding another X/2 Zombies to the battlefield, where X is still the current number of Zombies in play.
  • How many Zombie tokens will you add each turn?

With a little numerical and algebraic judo, Endless Ranks of the Dead and Paradox Haze will add (5/4)X Zombies to the battlefield through both triggers. For bonus points (and my greatest admiration), how many will be added if there is a second Paradox Haze in play?

    Hoarding the Horde

Changing cards in the Horde is the most straightforward way to adjust how the Horde works, but some of you had some pretty sweet ideas on adjusting this outside of the pile of Zombies.

Goblinrecruiter shared in the forums a different axis for decks.

Instead of playing with Constructed decks, construct a Cube specifically for fighting against the Horde, choose N cards randomly from it, and build Sealed decks from them. Ideally, the Cube would contain lots of cards that are powerful against the Horde, but nothing that comes close to winning the game by itself.

I introduced my friend Chris to the Horde, and he has run wild with the idea. He showed me the Stack, and has spent a considerable amount of time tuning a Horde deck designed to be battled by a Stack of funky and fun cards. With the right adjustments, a Sealed Deck Horde Challenge wouldn't be unreasonable. Getting a little extra use out of a temporary deck is never a bad thing!

Gnomejon suggested a rule change in the forums:

Allow the Horde to play X/2 nontoken cards per turn (where X is the number of players).

If you're a fan of the Footbottom Feast (and friends) suggestion above, this is one way to make those spells work well. Giving the Horde a chance to keep up with the Joneses not only makes sense, but lets the same Horde play dynamically different if more or less of your friends show up!

In a similar vein, John S. emailed an idea for helping the Horde break through entrenchment without necessarily clearing the battlefield every turn.

The problem I had come to identify with Horde decks was that it was unable to make a "comeback" once you stabilized the board. So I devised something I call "waves."

Waves work like this: after you've finished flipping tokens into your first Zombie spell, you flip up 5 additional cards, regardless of whether they're tokens or not, and cast them as well. That's it. A wave occurs every third Horde turn, with the first wave occurring on the Horde's first turn.

What this allows the Horde deck to do is in one turn completely wreck a "set" or "stabilized" position. A bonus is that it creates fear, and forces the players to play around it. Sure, you could attack in for 20+ points of damage, but next turn is a wave, and you have to brace for it. Or you could wipe the board this turn, but next turn is a wave, so should you wait, and potentially give the opponent a RIDICULOUS board, or should you do it now?

Many survival-style game modes function similar to this: you have a trickle of baddies flowing between massive surges of assaults. Of all the ways to handle giving the Horde a helping hand, I feel this is one of the most elegant and thematic. If you give this path a try please let us know in the forums how it worked out!

    The Circle Squared

With the one-two punch of last week's refresher and this week's recap, I hope you'll find enough to make the Horde a more regular part of your Magic diet. Of course, adding more things to any Magic diet is a tall order these days. One of the first I had added to mine was Cube, which was what I had asked about in last week's polls.

Are you familiar with what a "Cube" is as a way to play?

Are you interested in hearing about the pauper Cube, and the things you can do with Cubes in general?

Are you interested in hearing about the pauper cube, and the things you can do with cubes in general?

Due to an unfortunate technical issue, the second poll wasn't capturing votes correctly until about halfway through the day. Fortunately, both polls are quite clear with how they bear out. Many of you already knew about Cubes, but it isn't a slam dunk on familiarity. What is a home run is that you want me to share a little more about how these little packages are bundles of gaming joy.

I think I can oblige!

This week's poll should help clarify how you want to hear about Cubes.

Which Limited format do you want used for Adam's Cube?Winchester—the two player Draft formatRegular 6–8 player "booster" DraftSealed

Join us next week when we see the final fate of Ghave, Guru of Spores. See you then!

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