Other People’s Decks: Horobi, Death’s Wail

Sheldon goes over Melvin’s mono-black Horobi, Death’s Wail Commander list in the latest installment of his series on other people’s decks that he finds interesting.

It was an early Thursday afternoon a month or so ago, much like any other here in Tampa, Florida in the summer. The thermometer and humidigraph were both pushing 90, making the out of doors unfit for man or beast, so a fistful of Commander regulars had already descended on Armada Games for casual games before the 7 PM League. From two o’clock onward, we’ll generally squeeze in two or three sometimes four games, mostly socializing and chatting about Magic in general, new cards for the format, and most importantly, lots of laughs.

The laughs got better when Melvin showed up with the Horobi deck.

Melvin is one of the guys I like to sit at the table with because while he’s a really strong player; he gets the format in the same way I do. He’s focused on making the crazy into some fun. I always know that I have to pay attention when he’s playing because he always has something up his sleeve.

Quick diversion: Melvin was there (playing a different deck) when the first Return to Ravnica cards got played in the shop (at least for Commander). He was at eight with three creatures in play, as was I, Chris was around 30, also with three creatures, and Nate (playing Norin) was at eighteen. He had just tapped out to make eleven Goblins via Siege-Gang Commander and Kiki-Jiki. I realized this would be my only chance to get rid of Nate before he could start machine-gunning us with dudes. I cast Rakdos Charm and copied it with Wild Ricochet. I knew that it would likely put Chris in the driver’s seat, but it seemed like the only chance for me and Melvin. Chris, having other plans, also copied it with Wild Ricochet. Fortunately for me, I had a sacrifice outlet for my creatures. Poor Melvin didn’t. Beatings.

Melvin’s deck clearly intends to make the battlefield hostile to creatures, which is the feature of the general’s ability. The way it seeks to do that, or I suppose more correctly the tools he uses, are what makes the deck so interesting. With Horobi out, anything that targets is creature removal—the downside being that Horobi himself is vulnerable. It creates this interesting little dance involving keeping creatures alive. If you really want to stick something, you have to kill Horobi first, but that also leaves you open to the other folks sticking their creatures. It makes for a thought-provoking game.

It turns out that there are any number of cards that have targeted abilities that cost little or no mana. If you’re like me, you’ll have to read many of them. Big props for the old school-ishness of some of the choices. How many decks have you seen with cards from both The Dark and Ice Age in them? I’ll talk about the individual cards, and the list in decklist format is at the bottom.

Artifacts (20)

Armillary Sphere:  Mono-Black isn’t particularly good at getting lands, so this makes a fair amount of sense.

Baton of Morale:  Alphabetically the first of the old school card choices, it gives banding! I haven’t yet seen him use it yet for anything other than paired with Horobi, but I’m looking forward to when it happens.

Cauldron of Souls:  A clever choice in that it’s useful to save his own dudes, he can use it as a Wrath effect by simply targeting everything. They’ll die to Horobi’s trigger before the persist ability resolves.

Crucible of Worlds:  Seems a little overkill for one Tectonic Edge and two fetches.

Distorting Lens:  Another one that can do dual duty with both Horobi and getting around protection, which is something I think black has a fair amount of trouble with.

Expedition Map:  There are lands that the deck uses for Horobi, and the Map can get them.

Icy Manipulator:  The oldest of schools!

Liquimetal Coating:  Playing politics, you can always turn something into an artifact if there’s something annoying on the board and all anyone has is artifact removal. Also could be a blowout when someone casts Vandalblast.

Mimic Vat:  Just a solid card anyway, it seems great when you’re killing creatures.

Otherworld Atlas:  We’ve discussed before that I’m not much a fan of giving my opponents cards. I probably won’t go out of my way to blow it up since there are probably better targets, but I’m certainly going to think about it.

Predator, Flagship:  More double duty. The first ability doesn’t require tapping, so it can take out a number of guys at once.

Rod of Ruin:  Probably the only time you see this card get played in the format unless it’s in some crazy infinite mana/infinite untap deal.

Scale of Chiss-Goria:  Instant-speed, potentially zero cost removal, the Scale and the Tooth are both quite tricksy. In a recent game, Melvin used the Scale to save one of his guys from what would have been a lethal Bonfire of the Damned.

Sol Ring:  No need to talk about what Sol Ring can do.

Squee’s Toy:  More no-mana targeting.

Staff of Nin:  Just a good card anyway, Staff keeps the little utility creatures in check as well as being able to murder big guys with Horobi.

Tooth of Chiss-Goria:  See the Scale.

Tower of Coireall:  First of all, it’s from The Dark, so there are style points right there. I’m waiting for the day when the ability is actually relevant, like when someone is turtled behind Fog Bank, and this beauty comes down.

Trading Post:  Goat Post is now one of the most popular cards in the Armada Games EDH League. Its flexibility is amazing, and I think that the ability to Regrow artifacts is currently underrated.

Trip Noose:  I had forgotten this card existed until I saw it in this deck.

Artifact Creatures (2)

Darksteel Colossus:  When it’s easy for everyone to kill everyone else’s creatures, having the Indestructible guy seems like a fine answer.

Hex Parasite:  At first, I was wondering what he could possibly be using this for. Then, of course, I realized that it targets. Another in a series of cards in this deck that has decent value on its own but is pushed over the top by the addition of Horobi.

Solemn Simulacrum:  Waifish, size zero models don’t really do anything for me, so you might imagine how happy I am to see that a more natural-looking woman like Robyn Lawley is getting a good deal of modeling press.

Creatures (5)

Bloodghast:  Who cares if you keep killing it? It keeps coming back!

Grave Titan:  I can’t imagine too many mono-black decks without the Grave Titan. It’s one of the few ways Melvin has of laying pressure on opponents after he’s cleared (or helped clear) the battlefield.

Harvester of Souls:  This guy is so good in just any deck, doubly so when creatures die. Don’t forget about the deathtouch ability if you’re attacking into it.

Midnight Banshee:  I bumbled into this creature in a recent game, thinking the counter was put on a target creature instead of all of them. Lesson learned. Nice addition in general for a mono-black deck anyway, it’s a Spirit so it goes along with a few of the legendary creatures below.

Phylactery Lich:  I’m not 100% sure what he’s trying to protect since he has so many artifacts. It could be that he’ll always have something to put a counter on so that he can have a 5/5 indestructible guy for BBB.

Legendary Creatures (5)

Infernal Kirin:  I’ve been on the wrong end of this card once or twice, getting caught with more than one card of the right (or wrong, I suppose) mana cost.

Kyoki, Sanity’s Eclipse:  A Spirit to go along with Infernal Kirin. And now Bloodghast makes slightly more sense.

Massacre Wurm:  If you can’t kill them the tricky Horobi way, there’s always the Massacre Wurm way.

Toshiro Umezawa:  There are some neat little flashback-esque tricks to be had with Toshiro. At the very least, there is flexibility every time a creature dies, which is often.

Xenic Poltergeist:  Another Spirit, another potential artifact-killer in black, which isn’t traditionally good at it.

Enchantments (5)

Black Market:  Hey, if you’re killing lots of guys, you might as well get extra value out of it. Horobi tends to get killed a great deal, so the extra mana from this will help recasting it (even though he won’t trigger it, nearly everything else will).

Dauthi Embrace:  Another dual-duty card, giving someone else’s attacking creature shadow can certainly be a kingmaker.

Demonic Rising:  This is one of the few cards in the deck that I kind of shrug about. I think I’d replace it with Grave Betrayal.

Night of Souls’ Betrayal:  Great choice in keeping the weenie hordes down, it’s a card that I’m surprised we don’t actually see played more often in the format.

Unspeakable Symbol:  Sometimes paying three life to kill a guy is worth it. Sometimes paying three life to get rid of a persist counter—see Cauldron of Souls—is also worth it.

Instants (10)

Consume the Meek:  Another card that I think is criminally underplayed in the format. There are so many great hordes of token creatures running around that this—which is an instant if you didn’t notice—should always be great value.

Hideous Laughter:  Paying one more mana to have Infest as an instant is good enough. That it’s an arcane spell to go along with Infernal Kirin and Kyoki is insane.

Imp’s Mischief:  Again, paying a little bit of life can be absurd value, both in protecting yourself and your guys or just getting someone else’s awesome sorcery. Time Warp? Thank you very much.

Midnight Charm:  Each of the three abilities targets a creature, and the third one can be a potential lifesaver if Horobi’s not around.

Sudden Spoiling:  My love for this card knows no bounds. It’s frequently an epic blowout; at worst case, it’s an uncounterable Fog.

Tainted Strike:  Sometimes, a brother’s gotta get got. I’ve never seen Melvin use this to make an attacking creature suddenly lethal, but knowing it’s in the deck makes every attack nerve-wracking.

Touch of Darkness:  Another one-mana board wiper with Horobi in play.

Treacherous Urge:  Kind of creature removal since the creature is sacrificed at EOT, it’s double punishment when you’re holding back your good creatures because you don’t want Horobi and Tower of Coireall to kill them.

Vile Rebirth:  Simple graveyard removal that will keep in check anything crazy that’s about to happen. Certainly Genesis is a popular target.

Withering Boon:  I’ve seen this deck play this card half a dozen times, and it’s a jaw-dropper every time. Someone will think the window is open because Horobi is gone and get pantsed instead.

Planeswalkers (3)

Karn Liberated:  Melvin has a cool altered one from Ron Faris of Blackwing Studios, who did my Karador. It’s less fun to kill great art but necessary nonetheless.

Liliana of the Dark Realms:  A card that most mono-black decks should consider, I think the card is eminently fair. Explosive and strong, but its ultimate isn’t as insane as Tamiyo or Elspeth.

Liliana of the Veil:  Planeswalkers are really good when there aren’t creatures around to knock them down.

Sorceries (9)

Army of the Damned:  Hey, Zombies. And more Zombies.

Barter in Blood:  When there are creatures that you can’t get rid of by targeting them, Barter is an answer.

Black Sun’s Zenith:  Pretty standard black control card.

Damnation:  As it this.

Demonic Tutor:  Mono-black can certainly go overboard with Tutors, so I can appreciate that this is the only one in the deck.

Life’s Finale:  The third part of the black Wrath trio.

Praetor’s Grasp:  Playing this in a mono-black deck limits what you can do with it. I suppose that sometimes you can just use it to pull a really dangerous card out of someone’s deck.

Sever the Bloodline:  I’d play this without the flashback. Flashback takes it from good to great.

Shrouded Lore:  The cards in your graveyard are going to be really good no matter what they pick. You can always choose an opponent that will give you a favorable choice, like choosing the guy with no creatures who will give you back the Damnation.

Lands (13)

Ancient Tomb:  It feels like Melvin kind of has a disregard for his own life total.

Bojuka Bog:  I hate using the term "auto-include," but this is pretty close to one for black decks in this format.

Darksteel Citadel:  We don’t do too much mass land destruction in the League, but it never hurts to have a backup plan.

Desert:  Sure, you still have to take the damage from the creature (assuming it’s attacking you), but it’s worth it.

High Market:  This is about the only card in the deck that makes your life total go the other way.

Leechridden Swamp:  As far as this cycle of lands goes, this one is on the okay-ish side. It’s no Mistveil Plains.

Marsh Flats:  There’s a big discussion right now on one of the forums about whether a card like Marsh Flats should be allowed in mono-black. While stylistically I think players should choose to not play it, there is no way to write a concise and cohesive rule that would prevent mono-black from playing Marsh Flats that wouldn’t also prevent green from playing River Boa.

Maze of Ith:  More zero cost targeting. And pretty good without Horobi too.

Phyrexia’s Core:  There are so many artifacts in the deck that with Goat Post to regrow them, this isn’t bad at all.

Tectonic Edge:  You already know the list of lands that must be destroyed.

Tower of the Magistrate:  I’ve been playing this card since the beginning days of the format, and it’s still always great. These days it serves mostly to keep people from equipping Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots, but it will also make someone drop their Swords.

Verdant Catacombs:  See March Flats.


Basic Lands (25)

Swamp 25

Legendary Lands (1)

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth:  I don’t think I’d run this card in this deck. It provides more fuel for other people than it does for you, and there isn’t anything in the deck to take advantage of. I think the best use of it here is to Strip Mine someone else’s.

I love this deck because it’s innovative and different. It provides a Chaos-Embracing game in which you have to think a little outside of traditional paradigms. It’s always been fun and challenging to play against, and I look forward it seeing it more.