Suddenly, bodies emerge through the fog all around the shadowy figure, which you can now see is a cleric - or at least it was a cleric in a former life. Corpses of people all shapes and sizes come towards you, some rushing at full speed, and others slowly shambling. As they surround your group, you frantically keep them at bay in a desperate struggle that you know will not end until one group is unable to keep moving. You manage to fend off the first wave, but more and more appear. To make matters worse, all around you the fallen corpses stir and begin to rise.
Horde is a variant of Magic in which a group of players team up against an autonomous deck (from here on out referred to as Survivors and Horde, respectively). It was first introduced here, and had a follow-up article here. Additionally, the Serious Fun column on the mothership did an article about the horde format here. In general, the Horde deck consists of 100 cards, with a 60/40 split of tokens/non-tokens, although many players adjust their decks to suit their individual needs. Zombies are the most commonly used hordes, but many people use other tokens, such as Dragons, Angels, and Slivers. You're limited only by your imagination (and Magic tokens, of course).
The beauty and appeal of the format is that because the Horde is not controlled by a person, everyone is either a winner or a loser. Additionally, it can be played with as few as one person solitaire, or as many as you want (although much like regular Commander, 3-4 people is generally the perfect number).
The Basic Rules
(Authors note: I do not like this rule as I have found that it makes it easy for all but the weakest of Commander decks. I prefer using a life total of 30 life +10 life per survivor beyond the first, which caps out at 60 life. A 100 card horde deck should not be lessened below 100 cards, as I've found that even goldfishing a 100 card horde deck against 2 of my own decks has proven to be easily doable with a starting life total of 40 life.)
2. At the beginning of the Horde's turn, it reveals cards from the top of its library until a non-token card is revealed. First, the revealed card is cast, then the revealed tokens are cast. (Author's note: I change it so that the tokens enter the battlefield as a special action not using the stack, so that the players can't interfere.)
3. All creatures have haste, and must attack each turn if able. The Horde has infinite mana, and will pay all costs for cards such as Propaganda or Rhystic Study.
4. If the Horde would lose life, it instead mills that many cards from its library into its graveyard.
Winning the Game (all conditions must be met):
2. The Horde must have no cards in hand.
3. The Horde must have no creatures in play.
Additional Rules Notes:
2. The Horde is supposed to be mindless, so whenever possible, make choices randomly.
a) Upkeep - no special actions (see Rule #4 for flashback exception)
b) First main phase:
1. Reveal cards until a non-token card is revealed.
2. The revealed card is cast, using the stack as normal.
3. All revealed tokens enter the battlefield. This does not use the stack and cannot be responded to.
4. If the Horde has any additional cards in its hand due to an effect or spell, they are cast in a random order. These cards all use the stack, including token creatures.
5. Spells with flashback and creatures with unearth are played from exile as applicable, in a random order.
c) Combat phase - All creatures which are legally able to attack must attack (note that all creatures have haste).
d) Second main phase - Any cards drawn or returned to hand during the first main phase are now cast.
2. If the Horde would gain life, it puts one card per life gained from the bottom of its graveyard on the bottom of its library.
3. If the Horde would ever discard a card, it is done at random.
4. If a card with flashback would be put into the graveyard from anywhere, it is instead exiled with X time counters (where X is the converted mana flashback cost). At the beginning of the Horde's upkeep, 1d6 time counters are removed from the exiled spell. When the last counter is removed, the spell is cast along with the normal spells for the turn. The spell is then exiled as normal. Treat this as a replacement effect that cannot be responded to.
5. If a card with unearth would be put into the graveyard it is instead exiled and then unearthed during the horde's next first main phase after the spells of that phase are cast. Treat this as a special action that cannot be responded to.
6. If a creature with regeneration would die, it may use its regenerate ability once per turn in response to the damage/effect which would destroy it.
7. Choosing who to attack - Whenever there is one or more planeswalker in play, zombie tokens will divert their attacks towards the survivors and attack the planeswalker(s). If there is more than one, they will equally divide among the planeswalkers, with the odd number going for the one with the most loyalty counters.
Optional General Rule
- Cover of Darkness – Zombie is always the named creature type, naturally.
- Descent into Madness – The order for exiled permanents is: 1. Created Zombie tokens; 2. Regular Zombie tokens; 3. Zombie Giant tokens; 4. Creatures, starting with the lowest power; 5. Random non-creature permanents; 6. Descent into Madness.
- Ghoulcaller Gisa - She wants maximum effect, so whenever possible, she sacrifices the creature with the highest power.
- Pontiff of Blight – PoB does not grant other creatures the Extort ability. Additionally, only non-token cards are cast, so Extort will not trigger for the tokens, but the Extort ability is use once for each spell cast.
- Pox – Sacrifice creatures totally at random.
- Relentless Dead – RD will always pay if it dies, and will always "pay X" to get the top zombie card from the graveyard back to play.
- Sutured Ghoul – Exile only Zombie tokens (the 2/2 and 5/5 ones), but exile all of them.
- Temporal Extortion – If for any reason the survivors would cast this and force the horde to make a choice, the horde always pays the life by milling half their library. Note that this will trigger cards with flashback and unearth.
The Endless Masses (Tokens)
These are all thoughts on the cards that I'm running, have run, or contemplated running. Cards that I'm currently running are bold for easy identification. I've intentionally left out some zombies that I think don't add enough value or require some special rules.
- Aphetto Vulture - Pros: It flies, and it recurs creatures. Cons: You have to either modify the "target creature" to make it random or for added difficulty you can always choose the best target.
- Armored Skaab - Weak by itself, but you build your deck right, milling can lead to epic plays later on.
- Ashen Ghoul - A zombie that doesn't stay dead. Unfortunately, it makes for more things to keep track of.
- Balthor the Defiled - You'd have to figure out how to determine when to active his effect, but it's a powerful effect.
- Bladewing the Risen - A flying zombie, but with the horde having infinite mana, his ability can get out of hand.
- Blood Scrivener - By virtue of the horde not having a hand size, this zombie will most often draw an extra card.
- Bone Dancer - A zombie that raises your dead against you.
- Boneknitter - Regenerating your horde increased the difficulty by a lot.
- Cackling Fiend - Making your opponents discard is one of the stronger effects for the horde.
- Cemetery Reaper - A zombie lord, and an ability if you want to make a rule for it.
- Coffin Queen - A tap ability if you choose to make a rule for it.
- Dakmor Ghoul - ETB damage zombie.
- Death Baron - Zombie lord.
- Deathbringer Thoctar - Even without the second ability, this will get big.
- Diregraf Captain - Zombie lord that deals damage to the survivors.
- Dread Slaver - Turns your side against you.
- Dread Wight - Slows down the survivors creatures.
- Entrails Feaster - Eats the dead of the opposition.
- Fleshbag Marauder - Whittles away at the survivors' creatures.
- Gray Merchant of Aspodel – This card can be a dud or a blow-out, so use caution when adding these to the deck.
- Ghoulraiser - I like this better than Gravedigger simply because it's random.
- Ghoultree - A 10/10 zombie makes short work of the survivors.
- Glissa, the Traitor - even without her ability, first strike and deathtouch are good.
- Gloomdrifter - Pretty good when you have threshold, which will be quite often.
- Grave Defiler - One of my favorites, this zombie practically reads "draw four cards". The survivors won't like seeing this zombie get revealed.
- Gravebane Zombie - I thought about running this because it will be so hard to kill, but I think in practice the smart play is to kill it each turn, effectively stopping the horde from getting reveals and letting the survivors stabilize into a good position.
- Graveborn Muse - I haven't tried it, but one upkeep with Muse could be brutal.
- Gravecrawler - A zombie that doesn't die.
- Gravedigger - Brings the dead back.
- Grave Titan - The only non-zombie creature I run, but there's no excuse not to run him unless you have a very strict flavor theme.
- Grixis Slavedriver - A zombie that spawns more zombies.
- Havengul Lich - You can rule it to limit the number of creatures it can get, or bring everything back to the battlefield under the horde's control.
- Infectious Horror - 6-8 damage every time it attacks really adds up, or you can just count the survivors as one opponent to lessen the impact.
- Khabál Ghoul - A zombie that scales over time.
- Lightning Reaver - Damage dealer.
- Liliana's Reaver - Powerful effect if it connects.
- Lord of the Undead - Recursion effect if you choose to rule it.
- Maalfeld Twins - A zombie that spawns more zombies.
- Maggot Carrier - ETB damage dealer.
- Mikaeus, the Unhallowed - Probably the most hated lord out there. Undying is a force to be reckoned with.
- Necrosavant - Turn your tokens into something bigger.
- Nested Ghoul - A token generator, although probably won't survive for long.
- Noxious Ghoul - A good turn for the horde can make this zombie wrath the opposing side.
- Order of Yawgmoth - Pretty decent discard effect if you can figure out how to rule it.
- Phyrexian Delver - You can make it random, or control the effect for increased difficulty.
- Phyrexian Reaper - Situational card, but remember that the effect triggers once blockers are declared.
- Pontiff of Blight - Personally, I'd rule that extort triggers only once per spell cast, and PoB doesn't grant everything extort.
- Rotting Rats - Discard + unearth = bad for the survivors.
- Sedris, the Traitor King - Granting everything unearth is bad news for the survivors, but if they can survive the assault, exiling the horde's creatures actually helps the survivors in the long run.
- Soulless One - A vanilla zombie, but a big one.
- Sutured Ghoul - With a big enough graveyard, this can be GG with just one attack, assuming you exile the horde's entire graveyard of creatures.
- Thraximundar - Yep, he's a zombie. He's just as annoying as part of the horde as he can be in the command zone.
- Unbreathing Horde - Sometimes big, other times not, but the damage prevention keeps it alive for a while.
- Undead Warchief - Zombie lord.
- Vengeful Dead - This will make the survivors work around board wraths (and hope the horde doesn't flip one too).
- Vengeful Pharaoh - A recurring zombie, if you can figure out how to use the targeted kill effect.
- Vulturous Zombie - A flying zombie that gets bigger.
- Wight of Precinct Six - An annoying zombie because it forces you to constantly track its power/toughness.
- Withered Wretch - On the plus side, it keeps the survivors' graveyards empty, but the downside is that it can work against cards like Grave Betrayal.
- Woebearer - Constant recursion.
- Zombie Master - Increase the difficulty by giving all your zombies a regeneration shield. Swampwalk isn't bad, either.
- Army of the Damned - 13 zombies suddenly appearing. Another 13 is even worse.
- Bad Moon - A flavorful anthem.
- Bedlam - Why bother giving the zombies fear or swampwalk, when you can just make them unblockable?
- Call to the Grave - If this isn't dealt with, it can make short work of the survivors creatures.
- Coat of Arms - The mackdaddy of anthem effects, I don't run it because it's practically GG if it's not countered.
- Cover of Darkness - Flavorfully, this is a beautiful card. Mechanically, it makes the horde hard to block.
- Dawn of the Dead - Ongoing recursion effect.
- Deathbridge Chant - Ongoing recursion effect.
- Death Pit Offering - Anthem effect.
- Decree of Pain - I love this sweeper because no matter how you flip your cards, wrathing the horde's board just makes them that much stronger next turn.
- Delirium Skeins - Mass discard spell.
- Elixir of Immortality - If you find that your survivors tend to stall rather than attack, this will encourage attacking.
- Empty the Catacombs - Mass reanimation - sort of.
- Endless Ranks of the Dead - And endless flow of zombies, and by the nature of the deck, wrathing the board will only slow it down for a turn or two.
- Forsaken Wastes - Stops lifegain, which is difficult for the horde to bypass otherwise.
- Gibbering Descent - Repeated discard.
- Grave Betrayal - Let's face it, creatures are going to die. Now they won't stay dead for long.
- Grave Pact - Makes it difficult to keep the survivors creatures on the board.
- Immortal Servitude - One-sided mass reanimation.
- Living Death - Chances are, this will hurt the survivors more than help them, but I want to mix the recursion effects and not just make them strictly one-sided (by running all Zombie Apocalypses).
- Living End - Living Death with suspend.
- Mnemonic Nexus - Graveyard reshuffle.
- Moan of the Unhallowed - Zombie token production.
- Nether Void - Tax the survivors spells.
- Painful Quandary – Punish the survivors for trying to stop you.
- Past in Flames - Recast all those spells from the grave.
- Patriarch's Bidding - Mass reanimation for the horde, not so much for the survivors.
- Phyrexian Etchings - Increasing draws for the horde.
- Plague Wind - A one-sided board wrath.
- Primal Surge - With the number of spells that the deck runs, this is most likely a powerful, but fair spell.
- Rise of the Dark Realms - Mass reanimation that all goes to the horde.
- Skull Rend - Damage and discard.
- Soulquake - Mass bounce and reanimation.
- Smallpox - Pox is a brutal card, and I may end up running it as a one-of. Smallpox, on the other hand, is manageable (but awful to see in the first few turns).
- Syphon Flesh - Turns the survivors creatures into zombies.
- Syphon Flesh - The card advantage this provides is insane.
- Temporal Cascade - Refill the horde deck and give them seven more cards to cast next phase.
- Temporal Extortion - I love the idea of giving the horde extra turns, and this one is neat because it gives the survivors a painful way to counter it without a counterspell. The only downside is that if the survivors have a lifegain method then it loses its effectiveness.
- Tombstone Stairwell - Zombies!
- Twilight's Call - A "fair" mass grave reanimation spell, although nothing is fair about seeing all those zombies you killed.
- Whispering Madness - A repeatable discard spell that fills the horde's hand.
- Zombie Apocalypse - Lives up to its name.
A horde deck is a lot like a cube: easy to build (just grab a bunch of stuff and throw it together), and difficult to balance for your intended audience. When you're first starting out, the easiest thing to do is to start with 100 cards. Grab 60 appropriate tokens that hopefully have a mix of small and large creatures, and 40 other cards. Your other cards should be tribal appropriate creatures, anthems, board wipes, and some disruption, such as discard. Playtest it some, and if you find that your group has an easy time, consider trading some of the weaker effects for more powerful ones, and/or adding cards to the horde.
Because of the nature and mechanics of the Horde format, there are certain cards that you should avoid if you want your horde to be as mindless and autonomous as possible. Now, I'm not going to list every single cards, because that would be a lot of work and some cards can be worked around with house rules, but I will talk about the types of cards to avoid, with examples.
Cards to Avoid Putting in a Horde Deck
- Activated Abilities – The horde is supposed to attack each turn, be mindless, and have infinite mana. Most activated abilities will have a conflict with one or more of these. As always, it is up to each group to determine how to utilize these effects.
- Coin flips – No, I don't mean literal coin flip cards like Stitch in Time, I mean cards that when they resolve are either duds or completely back-breaking (Gray Merchant of Asphodel comes to mind). These cards are good in small doses as they can make for some swingy games, but when you load up on them, they tend to overpower the deck.
- Oops, I won cards – Properly constructed, your horde deck should make the Survivors dread each turn the horde gets, because each turn there is the possibility for a moment of calm or a moment of terror. What they shouldn't dread is a card that just hands the horde the game. Coat of Arms is one such card, because while it seems like it should be good, flipping over a handful of tokens and CoA doesn't make for a good match.
- X spells - The horde has infinite mana, so running a spell like Exsanguinate or White Sun's Zenith is pretty boring. There are a lot of X spells out there, so some of them could work. The two ideas I've come up with are using a turn counter, where X=turn number, or making X=# of Survivors. Personally, I like the second one because it doesn't require you to track the number of turns that has passed.
Cards to Avoid Playing as a Survivor
- Cheaty cards – These are all cards that take advantage of the fact that the majority (or all of the horde) is similar. I'm talking cards like Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which instantly kills most of a Zombie horde (and to a lesser extent Aether Flash), and cards like An-Zerrin Ruins and Tsabo's Decree unfairly play against the tribal nature of the horde.
- Combo cards - The horde can't react to the stack, so bouncing Palinchron ad nauseam for infinite mana, taking infinite turns with Time Warp, or Tooth and Nailing for Mike and Trike defeat the purpose of playing horde.
- Pillowfort cards - While sometimes you can get a breather by playing cards like Silent Arbiter or Moat, I find that it's too easy to tip the tides in the Survivors favor, simply because the horde can't block. If you find that your playgroup starts to build decks to play against the horde, these cards should be avoided, and if they come up naturally, figure out a good rule for bypassing them (such as ignoring them or discarding and drawing a new card).
Section reset when new thread created. To be updated...
These are all rules that other players use, or we've been brainstorming across the various threads. Feel free to steal, adapt, and suggest ideas.
Burn the Bodies: When you're up against 100+ cards, the odds are stacked against you, especially when the dead doesn't want to stay dead. When declaring attackers, you can choose to attack the horde's graveyard. Whenever you deal combat damage, each point of damage exiles one card at random from the horde's graveyard.
Emblems: Use a card (like a Swamp or Infect token) to represent an bonus for the horde. Each time one is revealed, the horde gets a bonus to make it more powerful. Some people treat the emblem as an extra turn, one extra reveal from the horde deck, or an emblem which gives the horde an extra reveal each turn. Depending on how powerful they are for your meta, you can choose to give the horde the emblem if they reveal it from a flip, or even when it gets milled to the graveyard.
Targeting: There's a lot of good zombies that the horde could run but because they target a single player, make for awkward rules (like Liliana's Reaver). Simply make any targeted effect target each survivor.
Tiers: Like the idea of an emblem, but want to make it less random? Use a turn counter instead. This way, players can't form a strategy to stall the emblems from appearing or stalling to buy time in order to set up a defense.
Treasure Hunting: You and your survivors are trying your best to fend off the horde, but sometimes you just need more help. What if someone had carelessly left something about for you to find? A treasure deck is a separate mini-deck that your team can draw cards from. Sometimes you will get something beneficial (such as extra equipment or power-ups), and sometimes there's a nasty surprise waiting for you, like a zombie or effect to pump the zombies.