Then We Will Fight in the Shade!

Posted in Serious Fun on February 21, 2012

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

Let me share a secret: horror movies scare me. No, no, I don't mean that they create a slight feeling of creepiness or dread, only to be quickly washed away. I mean straight up, look away, "I'm not watching this anymore!" knee-jerk reaction of flight. I don't turn them on and, when possible, I actively choose to turn them off.

You can blame my "good" parents who never desensitized me to gory horror movies. (Lack of desensitization includes horror-based video games, yet excludes the classic gib-splashing action of the Doom, Quake, and Unreal Tournament first-person-shooter series. You figure that one out.)

Of course, Innistrad and Dark Ascension have been tickling my sense of avoidance. I mean, Abattoir Ghoul and Screeching Skaab are things right out of my nightmares.

Abattoir Ghoul | Art by Volkan Baga

By Urza's beard, these guys seriously creep me out. Perhaps that's why I was so keen to build a Horde Magic deck when I learned about the format last year. And when I shared it with you, you ran with it as well. I promised we'd return sometime.

We're back, and now it's personal.

Dark Ascension brought a whole new level of nasty out to play thanks to two things:

  1. There are more monsters eating more Humans. Things just aren't easy for you right now if you have that subtype.
  2. Among the more monsters are even-better-than-before monsters, courtesy of the undying mechanic. Killing it once just isn't enough. Too bad.

Before we dive into the nasty new changes, let's step back and review the rules of Horde Magic again. I want to make sure the basics are clear, the exceptions are noted and explained, and everyone who wants to make the Horde their everything has the tool needed. (If you aren't interested, you can jump past it.)


That covers most of what you need to know. The rest is a more complicated piece noted above as "randomly." The original rules state "as randomly as possible," which is a great default: dumb Zombies are just randomly clawing about.

But after many games against the Horde, I've found most decks more than capable of handling the onslaught. Two variations I commonly run are:

  • "Smart" Horde, where the Survivors look at the board and intelligently decide what the most brutal thing to do it. Sometimes, it's a little easier (spells that kill things kill the best things) but other times it's much harder (splitting Fact or Fiction always is).
  • "Intelligently Random" Horde, where decision are mostly random. This sets the horde up to still be kinda dumb, but it actively avoids hurting itself. It's a good mix between the chaos of pure randomization and the selectiveness of making the call for the Horde.

Another rules corner that pops up is handling planeswalkers. Peter Knutson's update handled them like so:

Planeswalker Problem

"You're Welcome"

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?

I'm not a fan of this approach. While it's nice to try to keep your ally safe, I prefer the flavor of bringing in a distraction. I handle planeswalkers through pure randomization: you hope only a few will shamble after the fresh, delicious morsel that popped in. Otherwise, your distraction was short lived.

What did you expect from an ally who can dimensionally skip in and out on a whim?

Two-and-a-Half Zombies

Getting a very different way to play to work for everything is always a tricky business. Finding awesome Zombies to chuck in is much easier. The version of the Horde deck I had before came with a few issues:

  • The spells were powerful, but it didn't feel as powerfully aggressive as we had hoped.
  • Evasive Zombies were just okay; more powerful Zombies would have been better.
  • A "dump the graveyard back onto the battlefield" effect felt missing.

Dark Ascension can fix all of these issues for us. Here's a cheat sheet for the changes I made to my Horde:

Out In
2 Vengeful Dead 2 Diregraf Captain
1 Bad Moon 1 Unbreathing Horde
1 Bad Moon 1 Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
1 Smallpox 1 Gravecrawler
1 Festering March 1 Zombie Apocalypse
2 Severed Legion
1 Brain Gorgers
3 Geralf's Messenger
3 Grave Peril
1 Yixlid Jailer
4 Sightless Ghoul

Yeah. There's a little awesome to be had here.

My goal was to add more lords, resiliency, and redundancy. I wanted a Horde that would start hitting and keep on swinging thereafter. Diregraf Captain bumps the lord count up while serving the same purpose as Vengeful Dead. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed lords over things too, while granting a second unlife.

Geralf's Messengers and Sightless Ghouls all pack undying on their own, promising plenty of repeated attacking. Gravecrawler will come back every turn, given that some Zombie comes down from the deck. I always enjoyed the stature of Unbreathing Horde, so now seemed like a grand time to add it. And what would a Zombie Horde deck be without the shiny, new Zombie Apocalypse?

Zombie Apocalypse (Game Day Promo) | Art by Volkan Baga


As a quick aside, there are some seriously awesome blue Zombies rampaging about these days. Geralf's Mindcrusher and Relentless Skaabs are both fiendishly powerful for a Horde deck. If you want to go all in on adding blue, grabbing a Stitched Drake or two as well—they are Zombies—will throw a real wrench into most Horde defense plans!

Here's the new Horde:

Adam's Zombie Horde

Download Arena Decklist

Since I was awaiting the results of last week's deck vote, I threw together a very rough mono-red Commander deck, led by Akroma, Angel of Fury. It isn't my finest example of hundred-card construction, so you'll have to bear without a full decklist. But I do have a handy breakdown of some of the specialized cards I included!

Card(s) Purpose(s)
Mana Flare, Taurean Mauler, Wild Evocation Since the Horde isn't a "real" opponent, we can take advantage of things we normally can't!
An-Zerrin Ruins, Urabrask the Hidden While a two-card "lock" against the Horde seems mean, mono-red doesn't have many ways to go find it on command!
Alpha Brawl; Blasphemous Act; Chain Reaction; Comet Storm; Crater Hellion; Flowstone Slide; Incendiary Command; Inferno Titan; Jiwari, the Earth Aflame; Slice and Dice; Starstorm; Steel Hellkite Red is very good at clearing away a massing pool of creature!

To really see if things were bumped up a notch, I decided to grab a friend and head straight to test mode.

He looks like a mad scientist because he is a mad scientist. Really.

Nick's a familiar face around the card shop, and he was quite happy to help me out. Like forming a party for adventuring, I asked him to bring a Commander deck that could deal with enchantments and cast a few creatures pretty quick. He obliged, and we were off with 40 life and a fully stocked Horde deck!

Our three-turn reprieve ended with us on three lands each, Nick choosing to end on Omnath, Locus of Mana, and added a Manalith to ramp things up. The Horde's opening of just a Nested Ghoul wasn't very scary. Our next turn yielded a very favorable card for us: An-Zerrin Ruins, and I obviously chose Zombie. While this might seem a little unfair, the Zombies still got a chance to pile in. With just 40 life to work with, it wouldn't take too many to end things, even with the Ruins.

Nick made a Dungrove Elder before passing back to the Horde. It's turn yielded just a Cackling Fiend. Discarding my Devil's Play didn't seem too bad, and Asceticism wasn't in Nick's plans anymore after he missed his land drop. Our follow-up turn was a little slow as well. I landed Temple of the False God, feeding me into Crystal Ball and Druidic Satchel. Nick whiffed on land again, but floated a bunch into Omnath, Locus of Mana.

Of course, rolling out slow often isn't a good thing. The Horde's next turn yielded a much more sinister six Zombies, a Zombie Giant, and a Death Baron to boot. Omnath blocked the Baron, and Dungrove Elder delayed the Zombie Giant. We were suddenly dropped to a meager 18 life. An-Zerrin Ruins, whew!

Thanks to Omnath, Nick added a Seedguide Ash to play, and I had a Hoarding Dragon to go find my Gauntlet of Power. We both hoped we would be cashing in our creatures soon. The Horde deck had two very meager Zombies but also packed the wallop of Army of the Damned.

My business card was the only token we had left at the moment.

Thankfully, Army of the Damned tokens enter the battlefield tapped. I started to use Crystal Ball and Druidic Satchel to gain life and scoot ahead on lands. It's a slow combination, but it worked! Adding a Bonehoard to my side, and Nick going the Mitotic Slime route, seemed the safe play. The only thing that would wreck us at that point would be an unanswered Endless Ranks of the Dead.

Obviously, that was the next card the Horde got to play. Thanks to the massive amount of locked tokens, Endless Ranks was promising a ton of damage very quickly. Scrying my heart out, I found Chandra Nalaar.

That's just how the Zombies crumbled.

She was a fine distraction, as the division of the Horde on the next turn saved us. Thanks to Crystal Ball, we knew Flowstone Slide was on the way, but blocking still had us drop down to 8 life. But boy did Flowstone Slide do the trick, leaving the Horde with little left afterwards.

Of course, the Horde wasn't nearly out of tricks yet. The next card it cast was Zombie Apocalypse. While dumping tapped dudes into play was annoying with Endless Ranks of the Dead, we did enjoy getting the chance to cash in on a Fleshbag Marauder trigger. On our turn, I was able to play my Gauntlet of Power, and Nick had a well-timed Karn Liberated to free us from Endless Ranks.

Nick was then able to ramp out some more lands, sharing that he had an Avenger of Zendikar. The problem, however, was a tapped Death Baron granting deathtouch to everything. The Horde's next turn was just a Zombie token and Gravecrawler, which we artfully blocked to leave it in play tapped. It seemed safer that way!

After a quick flashed-back Devil's Play to eliminate the Death Baron, Nick and I attacked for a very nice chunk of the Horde's deck.

Heck yes, we took out some fierce stuff!

Twilight's Call, two Unbreathing Horde, and two different lords made this flop of damage in much better than usual. And Nick's follow up of Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger; Avenger of Zendikar; a land for the turn; and a free-to-play Khalni Hydra left us plenty of blockers.

The Horde's reply of a Zombie Giant and Geralf's Messenger—knocking us back to 8 life again—was promising. We'd have overwhelming damage the turn thereafter. Our boards were pretty set by this point.

Explaining everything you see would take far too long.

Our return attack devastated the remaining library for the Horde, and thanks to Karn's exile effect we had no issues mopping up the rest.

The overall power of the additional lords and Zombie generators feels much better, and it was only thanks to An-Zerrin Ruins that we survived. Tuning the deck isn't over yet, as I'd really love it to stand up to the full force of a four-player team, but I'm not unhappy with how things are shaping up so far! If you have suggestions for cranking up the Horde intensity, just jump in the forums and share!

Last week's adventure-style deck-building article seemed to have gone over well. While I wasn't planning on trying it again, when the time is right and the stars align I'd be pleased to take you on another adventure. Here’s how we finally netted out:

Which flavor of Ghave, Guru of Spores deck do you want Adam to play?
Sacrifice and Nonbasic Mana 1054 37.9%
Tokens and Nonbasic Mana 826 29.7%
Tokens and Basic Mana 457 16.4%
Sacrifice and Basic Mana 444 16.0%
Total 2781 100.0%

It's obvious that nonbasic mana sources are the way of the majority, and the sacrifice theme edged out the token approach by a narrow margin. I can say wholeheartedly that I'm very excited to jump into a new Commander deck that was designed through the fires of my card pick and the forge of everyone's voting over the weeks. Thanks again!

Next week is Grand Prix Baltimore, just a stone's throw away from my current stomping grounds. I hope those of you in the area will take some time to head out and join in the festivities! I'll be playing emcee for a Commander tournament—yes, the more competitive flavor of the Commander experience—as well as setting up shop for some Winchester action with my pauper cube.


Speaking of cubes, I've never asked these two questions before so now seems a grand time to so!


I'm not worried if everyone is interested in cubes or not, but if many of you happen to be curious I'd be glad to revisit it sometime soon!

I can't wait to dive into the Grand Prix and meet up with dozens of friends—old and new. It's going to be a grand time, and if you see me, feel free to say hello! Join us next week when we take our completed Commander deck out for its inaugural spin! See you then!

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