CasualNation #58 – Artifact Horde

Hello, Nation! Sometimes, a casual writer has to know when to jump on a trend. I jumped on Respawn early, and I loved it for multiplayer. (Respawn is the variant where a person who dies will shuffle back in and the killer gains a point.) Sometimes you have to know when to hold off.

So, the recent thing to discuss here in Casual Land is Horde Magic—the variant where you build a big ol’ stack of meanness and then collectively fight against it. I was intrigued after reading several different articles on various sites. I’ll briefly go over the format, send you to where you can read about it in more length, and then show you my artifact horde and talk about how it plays.

Here we go!

A Quick Horde

Unlike most Magic games, where everybody is on his own, this is a format where everybody is facing the same enemy. While similar to Archenemy, the ultimate bad guy is not one player with a tricked-out deck and some schemes, but a Horde deck. This format is designed for one to four players using Commander decks.

You build a hundred-card Horde deck as the enemy. Here’s how you play the Horde:

  • Everyone on a team takes a shared turn, including a shared attack phase, and shares a life total, and so on.
  • You take three turns before the Horde takes one. This allows you to set up. After that, alternate turns.
  • The Horde wins when you have no life left. Each player contributes 20 life. (So three players would have 60 life.)
  • Whenever the Horde takes damage, you mill a card to its graveyard for each damage dealt. It dies when the Horde deck is exhausted.
  • If you have fewer than four players, remove some cards at random from the stack to make things work (three players: seventy-five cards; two players: sixty cards; one player: forty-five cards).
  • Horde turns are strange:
    • Flip over the top card of its deck and keep flipping until you flip a nontoken card.
    • Everything flipped is played, including token cards.
    • The Horde has infinite mana of all types at all times.
    • The Horde only plays spells at the beginning of its turn.
    • If something is bounced to its hand, it plays it at the beginning of the next turn with everything else. Horde token cards do everything a regular card does, including going to the hand, graveyard, and so on.
    • All Horde creatures have Haste and must attack each turn if possible.
    • All Horde choices are made randomly (for example, making piles when targeted by a Fact or Fiction).

Since the deck wants token creatures, Horde decks have sixty token creatures and forty other cards that fit the theme of the deck. The first few decks I’ve seen are Zombies, but a few different tribes are making their way out now. Here is Peter Knudson’s article from QuietSpeculation.com about the format.

Obviously, when constructing the deck, leave out cards that would require choices or clever plans by the Horde player. Things that target, like Swords to Plowshares, are not useful. If it’s a card that is only good sometimes, I don’t like it. That’s why I don’t like Wrath effects. They are in other Hordes, but I played one game in which the Horde killed itself with one . . . so I pulled them.

My Artifact Horde

21 Myr tokens
21 Golem tokens (3/3’s)
7 Thopter tokens
3 Pentavite tokens
4 Construct tokens
1 Golem token (9/9)
1 Wurm token (3/3 with Deathtouch)
1 Wurm token (3/3 with Lifelink)
1 Tuktuk the Returned token
1 Urza's Armor
1 Sphere of Resistance
1 Lodestone Golem
1 Mirrorworks
2 Darksteel Juggernaut
1 Lumengrid Gargoyle
1 Mindcrank
1 Isolation Cell
1 Colossus of Sardia
1 Juggernaut
1 Defense Grid
1 Damping Matrix
1 Possessed Portal
1 Cumber Stone
1 Propaganda
2 Wing Splicer
2 Evacuation
1 Pendrell Mists
3 Master of Etherium
1 Mindlock Orb
1 Dissipation Field
1 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Master Splicer
2 Blade Splicer
1 Ghostly Prison
1 Glorious Anthem
1 Indomitable Archangel
1 Roar of Reclamation
1 Open the Vaults
1 Tempered Steel
1 True Conviction
1 Norn's Annex
1 Fountain Watch

When I was looking through my creature tokens for inspiration, I realized that I had a large number of artifact creatures, and that became my theme. Along with that came a few griefer cards as well—to play defense and make it different than other hordes I’ve seen.

Note that the original Horde deck featured fifty-five 2/2 tokens and five 5/5 tokens. They averaged a power and toughness of 2.25. My tokens’ average power is 2.22 and toughness is 2.67. None had any special abilities. This stack plays a bit differently because it’s not as consistent. Sure, you can flip a 6/12 with Trample or a 9/9, but you’re also likely to flip a Myr or a 1/1 flyer. Thirty-one tokens are 1/1’s—with ten of those flying—twenty-three tokens are 3/3’s, and the rest of the tokens are larger. This gives the deck some unevenness, which makes it play differently each time. Remember that Tuktuk is a Golem for the Splicers. (Also, note that the Lifelink on the one Wurm token does nothing for the Horde player.)

The first thing I knew I wanted was Blue and White in the deck. There is no rule that says that you have to play one color only. I have no clue why the Zombie decks don’t add Strength of Night. But they don’t. They want to keep things one color, probably for thematic reasons, and I respected that. Instead of adding cards in all colors that would work (such as Maul Splicer), I went just with Blue and White.

I knew that I wanted Master of Etherium in large numbers, and I had three extra just sitting around and doing nothing. Other decks use tribal cards and their many lords. I didn’t want something like Myr Galvanizer just sitting back and only pumping some of my creatures. The Splicers are in because they make Golems—not because they make them better ( . . . but I’ll take it).

I also wanted a few other pumpers, so I tossed in a Glorious Anthem and True Conviction to round everything out. For my last pumper, I grabbed Tempered Steel to make things nasty, but I knew any more would be crazy. Now I had my pumping cards to parallel other Hordes’ Death Barons and Undead Warchiefs.

Once I had that, I also wanted some generic artifact creatures to fit the theme. I looked through my deck stock and grabbed the Darksteel Juggernauts, Colossus of Sardia, Lumengrid Gargoyle, Lodestone Golem, and Sundering Titan. The Sundering Titan was pulled because it targeted, so I replaced it with a simple Juggernaut. Everything else looked good and a bit nasty.

I knew I wanted more creatures, so I hit my colors up and lighted on the Splicers. I went with two of each of the three I really liked: Wing Splicer, Blade Splicer, and Master Splicer. If I need more, I can toss in Sensor Splicer later to replace cards that don’t work. (Fountain Watch, I’m looking at you.)

After I added Ethersworn Canonist and already had Lodestone Golem, I thought about adding a few more grief cards. They seemed like really good adjuncts to an artifact strategy. In went Pendrell Mists, Norn's Annex, Sphere of Resistance, Ghostly Prison, and Propaganda to slow decks down. In went Defense Grid and Dissipation Field. By giving the Horde a few tools for defense, I wanted to make it a bit more powerful.

There are some more ways to frustrate the players. Damping Matrix shuts down activated abilities of artifacts and lands. Mindlock Orb turns off all tutoring. Mindcrank forces them to mill cards. Possessed Portal is particularly nasty. It doesn’t impact the Horde player because cards are revealed and put into the hand . . . not drawn. No one will draw, and players have to discard or sacrifice permanents. This is your best flip (especially on that first turn the Horde takes!). This is the artifact Horde’s version of Plague Wind.

Cumber Stone is a simple way of reducing the Horde’s foes’ creatures without Wrathing. Isolation Cell forces your foes to pay 2 mana or lose 2 life every time they play a creature. It just adds to the grief of taxing attacks and more. It also works wonders with Dissipation Field and Evacuation.

Speaking of Evacuation, after I pulled my various Wrath of God effects, I went for something similar and tossed in a pair of Evacuations. This was originally one Evacuation and one Upheaval. You can’t play Upheaval in Commander, but the Horde deck isn’t Commander-legal anyway. I still thought it was a bit too much and went with Evacuation instead. It’s a way to slow down enemies without hurting yourself.

For protection from bad stuff, we have Fountain Watch, Urza's Armor, and Indomitable Archangel. If you have the Metalcraft on that, it’s powerful. Having two dudes that give the team the Indestructible ability is messy. And fun! In both cases, you can just off the Fountain Watch or Archangel and then blast artifacts (or enchantments, in the case of Fountain Watch). Fountain Watch was originally Smokestack, but it required choices (what to sacrifice), so nope.

Open the Vaults and Roar of Reclamation both simulate the Living Death– and Twilight's Call–style cards in the original Zombie deck. The Roar of Reclamation is worse, but I wanted one of each. It’s worse because the Horde has a solid number of enchantments (seven, to be exact) and Open the Vaults can bring them back, too. Note that both of these cards can help the Horde’s enemies too, but the Horde should usually do better.

The Mirrorworks does, technically, require a decision for playing nontoken artifacts (which are twenty of the remaining thirty-nine nontoken cards). I just rule that you always pay it and make a duplicate. You can trigger it about half of the time because you always get a nontoken, if you’ll recall. You can’t make copies of Construct tokens, but you certainly can make duplicates of everything else. Many of these cards are just downright insulting in duplicates—two Urza's Armors, two Master of Etheriums, two Norn's Annexes, and two Cumber Stones. I’ve gotten it to work every time I’ve flipped it for the Horde player.

Solo versus Equinaut Commander

I haven’t yet tried to tackle this Horde solo, so I thought I’d do it against my newest Commander deck: the Equinaut deck. (You can check it out here.)

I shuffle each, and then remove fifty-five cards at random from the Horde.

I keep a hand with three business cards and four lands. I drop Hallowed Fountain on turn one, bounce it back with Treva's Ruins, and play Gemhide Sliver on turn two, then play it and a Watchwolf on turn three.

All right, here we go. The Horde flips Golem, Myr, and Blade Splicer. Here comes two 3/3 First Strike Golems, a Myr, and Splicer. My Watchwolf kills the Splicer, and I take 7. 13 life. I draw a Familiar's Ruse, and play an Island. I pass the turn with my Sliver and Watchwolf up. The Horde flips a Colossus of Sardia. Sorry, but I counter that and bounce my Sliver. It attacks and I trade with a Golem. I am at 9.

I draw and play a Plains and Aura Shards. If I can survive this turn, who knows what will happen soon? The Horde flips four Myr and a 6/12 Construct, plus a Juggernaut. That’s game. Let’s try again!

I keep a two-land hand. I play Savannah, Island, and Tundra, followed by a Drift of Phantasms as a Wall. Here comes the Horde! Master of Etherium and Thopter token. Here they come. I block the 2/2 Thopter and take 2. I am at 18.

I draw a Plains and drop it. Out comes Azorius AEthermage. I pass. The Horde flips a Construct and Evacuation. All creatures are returned and its turn passes. On the next turn, I drop Temple of the False God and consider. I need to take out the Construct. I transmute Drift of Phantasms for Aura Shards and play it. I pass.

The Horde flips a Myr and Ghostly Prison. Everything is played and I take 15 and go to 3. Ouch, right? I play a Forest and here is my turn:

My foe flips a Myr and a Norn's Annex. Here come two Myr. One is blocked by my 0/2 Tree, and I go to 2.

I draw and play my last land: an Island. Azorius AEthermage is played and kills a Myr. I play the Drake, kill the other Myr, and pay a colorless mana when I return it to my hand to draw a card off the AEthermage. I keep 4 mana left for tricks. My foe flips Myr and Wing Splicer. Everything attacks. Game, right? Nope. I flash out my Death Kitty, a.k.a. Fleetfoot Panther. I kill the Golem and bounce the AEthermage, and I do not tap the Utopia Tree to draw a card. I block the Splicer with the Panther and its Myr with my Tree. Dead Splicer.

I untap and play Mystifying Maze. I want some flying defense, so I play Patagia Viper, kill the Myr, Prison, and Annex (the tokens trigger Aura Shards). Now I’m the one with tokens. I have 5 mana for a Mystifying Maze, plus Tree, Panther, and Viper with its two tokens running around. Let’s see what my foe does.

The Horde player flips a Construct, a 3/3 Wurm with Deathtouch, two Myr, and a Mirrorworks. Here they come. I Maze the Construct. I trade a 1/1 Snake for its Myr, my Panther . . . sigh . . . for its Wurm, and I just block the third Myr with my Tree. The Horde passes and the Construct comes back.

I play a Hallowed Fountain tapped. My Azorius AEthermage rejoins the table and kills a Construct. A Shrieking Drake draws a card and kills a Myr. I can’t do it again and leave myself open without Mystifying Maze. I pass the turn, leaving a dangerous Mirrorworks there.

The Horde flips Cumber Stone, a Golem, and a Myr. With two Cumber Stones out . . . ouch. Here they come. Utopia Tree jumps in front of a Myr and I Maze the Golem. It returns at the end of the Horde’s turn. I play Eternal Witness and return Drift to my hand, and I kill a Golem. I play Shrieking Drake and spend a mana to draw a card and return the Witness to my hand . . . dead Mirrorworks. I play (tapped) the Breeding Pool I drew. I also drew a Mana Drain this turn, so I feel very comfortable. I pass.

The Horde flips Blade Splicer. I counter it with Mana Drain. I block the Myr with a Tree. The Horde passes. I have {3}, which I use when I transmute a Drift of Phantasms into a Cloudstone Curio and play it. Eternal Witness kills a Cumber Stone and recurs Drift and bounces the Drake back to my hand, and I spend a mana to draw a card off it. I play the Nantuko Monastery that I draw. I play Jenara, Asura of War, my Commander. I destroy the other Cumber Stone and bounce my Witness. I tap out to play Momir Vig, Simic Visionary and kill the Myr. My foe is now down a card.

The Horde flips two Myrs, a Thopter, the 9/9 Golem, and a Sphere of Resistance. Here they come! I chump the big Golem with a token Snake dude. Jenara crushes a Thopter, Momir Vig crushes a Myr, and my tapped Tree does nothing, so I trade my Viper for the final Myr.

I draw a Flooded Strand and laugh. Not playing that! I play Shrieking Drake and the extra mana to destroy a Sphere and it bounces itself, and I spend a mana to draw a card. I draw Familiar's Ruse. I play Primeval Titan and kill the Golem. I add a tapped Kor Haven and Seaside Citadel for the turn and play a tapped Celestial Colonnade. Your turn, Horde!

Two 3/3 Golems and the Canonist attack me. The Titan kills one, Jenara blocks a second, and I put a counter on it. I play Whitemane Lion, kill the Canonist, and bounce my Drake back to my hand, but I have no mana to draw a card.

On my turn, I draw a Serra Avenger, and attack for 10 with my Titan, Jenara, Nantuko Monastery, Momir Vig, the Lion, and the AEthermage, which all adds up to 24 damage after I put 5 counters on Jenara . . . and I kill the Horde!

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