‘Afternoon, y’all, and welcome to GDC!  I’ve got a bit of a weekend recap involving a dip into the “Horde EDH” pool, but before we get there, I wanted to do some quick housekeeping.

Right off, for those of you coming over from Commandercast.com, thanks so much for dropping in.  (For those of you who are inbound from parts elsewhere, thanks as well!  We love everyone equally here at GDC…)  Andy and company over there were kind enough to toss me a shout-out on Commandercast S4E9 this week, and I certainly appreciate it.  Much thanks, guys! 

If the reason you’ve dropped in is for the Thraximundar contest, head over here for all the info you need.  (And please stick around afterward if you’ve got the time!)  Again, this is a great cause the Commandercast guys’ Gifts Given charity drive is fundraising for in Child’s Play, so please help out if you can.  You might end up with the custom card alteration of your choice, and those guys will be ending up with a nice helping of Dual-Land Goodness to start! (And I hopefully can stop embarassing myself in public with my poor attempt at a Thrax’ list.  Kind of a “win-win-win”, right?)

Anyway, moving on to the main course for today…Horde EDH.  The idea for this format first surfaced on Quiet Speculation in Peter Knudson’s article here, and Sheldon paid some lip service on StarCity this week here.  My good friend and resident EDH deck construction addict/maniac Patrick couldn’t resist whipping up a list after reading up on the format, and brought it on up to my house this past weekend for a few days’ worth of fending off the zombie apocalypse.  Always good times!

If you haven’t popped over to read up on the details, Horde Magic is essentially a multiplayer variant that puts you and your co-player(s) on a team.  You share turns and life-totals, but use your own decks (similar to 2HG.)  You face off against a deck that represents an attacking zombie horde.  The basic tenets are:

-The zombie deck has no land in it.  (It is assumed to have infinite mana.)  The zombie deck contains a mix of zombie tokens, and actual cards.
-Each turn, the zombie deck reveals cards from the top of the library until it hits a non-token card.  It casts this card, and all tokens come into play with haste.
-Because the deck has infinite mana, it can cast the contents of its hand at any time.  For this reason, your Wheel Of Fortune is really bad…
-The zombie deck is assumed to be a ‘mindless horde’, so it always attacks with every available creature, and any decisions it has to make (blocking, sacrificing, splitting a Fact Or Fiction, targeting, etc…) are at random.
-The zombie deck has no life total.  If it takes damage, it instead discards cards equal in number to the damage total it received. 
-The “survivors” win when the zombie deck runs out of cards and all zombies in play are destroyed or exiled.  The zombie deck wins by reducing the survivors to zero life.

There are some provisions for a banned list (realistically, if the bulk of the opposing deck is made up of vanilla 2/2 creatures, things like Elesh Norn and Moat kind of school it…), and it is recommended that you adjust life totals and zombie deck size based on the amount of players on the survivor team.  The other variable, which I’ll speak to later on, is affording the survivors a “head start” comprised of a certain number of turns.  You’ll find that you can tailor things to your liking to make things work smoother; we decided that any “hoser” cards that would unreasonably wreck the zombie deck would be played as if they were blank, colorless cards that cycle for free (rather than have to pull them out of our decks), and while we decided on a standard 40 life no matter how many players were in the game, we did experiment with the number of head start turns.  (The perfect number seems to be somewhere between two and three for this setup.)  Both Peter and Sheldon speak to this in depth in their respective articles, so please check out both.

Patrick and I played about six-hours’ worth of games on Saturday night, and were joined by our friend Chad for a few more hours on Sunday.  (While the wives headed out to a ‘candle party’, whatever that is, and my son mercifully slept…)  I was having way too much fun to take thorough notes (and honestly, the games tended to go fairly quickly no matter how they played out), but I’ll try to sum up my thoughts below:

-First off, the format is a blast.  It offers a really fun way to re-connect with EDH if you find yourself a little less-than-enthused lately, and will still provide a solid shot in the arm for anyone who enjoys shuffling up 99 cards.  While Patrick and I are both active EDH junkies (always building, always playing), Chad is a lapsed player who had come to the conclusion several months bach that EDH was not his cup of tea.  All three of us had a blast, and Chad rekindled that little glimmer in his eye by the end of the day Sunday.

-I find it really refreshing to play a co-op format with no ‘live’ enemy. (No pun intended…)  It’s really nice to be able to leave your hands face up on the table, and make decisions together.  If you’re like me (read: bad player) and not like Patrick (read: good player), you can also learn a ton through this cooperation. 

-Once you find the correct balance, the games are very balanced.  Even with some admittedly high-powered decks, you’ll sometimes end up taking your set-up turns, passing, and watching the Zombie deck hit a string of seven zombie and zombie giant tokens into Undead Warchief on the first turn.  I was expecting things to lean in favor of the survivors over the zombies, and I was pleasantly surprised.

-For the same reason, we discovered that often the correct play was to set up for a board sweeper as soon as possible. 

-I think most of our games were fairly quick, somewhere in the range of ten or fifteen minutes, with the occasional early blow-out or protracted slugfest.  For that reason, it’s great to have a zombie deck on hand if you’re waiting for another game to start on EDH league night, or any other time you’re not in a position to play a full normal game.

-Due to the sheer amount of bodies coming at you, it seemed like token decks that could set up early tended to fair better against the horde.  We had a fair amount of games go in our favor while I was piloting my Hazezon Tamar deck, and I’m pretty sure that my Intet list, barring draws that netted early Coiling Oracle or Yavimaya Elder to pull double duty chump-blocking and accelerating me into big spells, would just tend to lose.

-Strategy is king.  We toyed around with several deck combinations that would involve a control deck (my mono-blue Venser list) coupled with an aggro deck like Stonebrow; it worked out very well.  The worst matchups were ones where we unilaterally chose mid-range decks. 

-Speaking of control, having a counter or a Glen Elendra Archmage was pretty key to preventing the blowouts that would happen when we were able to mill three-quarters of the zombie deck, only to see it rip Living Death off the top.

-My mono-white angels tribal deck?  Yup…still sucks, even here. 

-The epic moment for me came when I was playing Teysa.  We killed off an opposing Undead Alchemist, which I promptly reanimated with Beacon Of Unrest.  I looked down, and realized that I kept a zombie token sleeved with the Teysa deck, but I couldn’t remember for the life of me why.

I turned to Patrick.

“I have no clue what this thing is even here for, but it’d be fantastic if it came up right about now.”

As I’m finishing my sentence, I untap and draw Army Of The Damned.

Patrick, without missing a beat:

“That’ll work!” 

-Don’t overlook token composition while building your stack.  You really need the zombie deck to average hitting multiple tokens each turn; when it top-decks something like Call To The Grave with no creatures in play, it’s basically game over in favor of the survivors.  Likewise, be mindful of your zombie token/zombie giant token ratio.  You need a few giants to hit from time to time, but good lord, more than one early is a total blowout.

-On the same topic, there’s an equal amount of opportunity in tuning the zombie deck as there is in adjusting life-totals or head starts.  In fact, I think I prefer this; there was one game when we resolved a giant Titanic Ultimatum and went up to 96 life, but were not quite able to take out the zombies that turn.  Since we knew it would just mindlessly swing and not leave blockers up, we were just able to ignore everything it did for a few turns while winning on the back of small token beats.  On the same token, starting at 40 life preserved that feeling that we were always just a turn away from being over-run.  I think I would err on the side of lower life/higher head starts and more cards in the zombie deck for purposes of balancing the games.

-I think we came to the conclusion that the optimal setup was as follows:

Survivor Life Total – 40 across the board
Two-Player Head Start – Two turns
Three-Player Head Start – One turn (Players effectively go first.)

Two player games seemed to be a blowout in our favor with three turn starts (unless we were both opting for mid-range decks) while anything more than a single turn for the three of us tended to slant in our favor.

All in all, Horde EDH gets two big thumbs-up.  If you’re a fan of EDH, give it a try.  It’s a great change of pace, and a great way to augment your normal games.  BIG return on fun investment here.