The Kitchen Table #368 – Germ Warfare, A Horde Deck

Horde is the big new thing for casual players with EDH or other various multiplayer decks lying around. Abe Sargent puts his spin on the typical Zombie Horde deck, instead using Germ tokens.

Bonjour mes amis! The newest format that has been making the rounds in casual circles is Horde Magic. I’ve really enjoyed the format thus far, so I wanted to bring you one of my more unusual creations, the Germ Horde deck, which I call Germ Warfare.

What is the Horde, and how do you play it?

The Horde is a deck of 100 cards that is designed for you and your buddies to face with Commander decks. You are trying to stomp down a Horde of bad guys that is coming your way every turn. Meanwhile, that Horde is unending pressure turn after turn. Lots of articles have been written recently, on a variety of sites, from the Mothership to SCG and even my article here, detailing my first non-Zombie Horde, an artifact-oriented one.

For those of you who may be unaccustomed to the variant, allow me to lay out the rules for you:

The Rules for a Night of Horde

First, you have to build a hundred-card Horde deck. The play and construction rules are simple:

a. Your team is between 1-4 players. Just like Two-Headed Giant, everyone takes a shared turn, including a shared attack phase, and shares a life total, and so on.

b. The heroes (you) take three turns before the Horde takes one. This allows you to set up. After that, the Horde goes, and then you alternate.

c. The Horde wins when you have no life left. Each player contributes 20 life. (So three players would have 60 life.)

d. Whenever the Horde takes damage, you mill a card to its graveyard for each damage dealt. The only way the Horde player dies is when the Horde deck is exhausted.

e. Supposing you have fewer than four players, just take some cards at random away from the stack to even things out (three players: seventy-five cards; two players: sixty cards; one player: forty-five cards).

f. Horde turns have some special rules:

  • Begin by flipping over the top card of its deck and keep flipping until you flip a nontoken card.
  • Whatever is flipped is played, including token cards. I count token cards as actual spells being played.
  • Just like Type 4, the Horde has infinite mana of all types at all times.
  • The Horde only plays stuff at the beginning of its turn after it flips.
  • If something is bounced to a Horde’s hand, the Horde will only play it at the beginning of the next turn with everything else after flipping. 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. Flip coins and roll some dice.

This deck works best on token creatures, so most Horde decks have sixty token creatures and only forty other cards that fit the theme of the deck. Due to October and the “horde” nature of the creature type, the first few decks I’ve seen are Zombies, but a few different tribes are making their way out now. I did one on artifacts I linked to above, and I’ve seen Goblins, Eldrazi Spawn, Dragons and Angels.

However, after playing for a while, some people have made modifications to the rules. Play with these rules a bit and then take a look at some of those made by players. Here are four that were created by a playgroup and posted to my article last week as the changes they’ve made to the rules (Thanks to Murkbeard):

a. The Horde starts when players have taken two turns. This helps give it some edge.

b. The Horde flips over one card on its first turn, then two on the second, then three and so on, up to a maximum number of cards per turn determined by player count. This makes Horde turns smoother.

  • 1 player, Max 5 cards flipped
  • 2 players, Max 8 flipped
  • 3 players, Max 10
  • 4 players, Max 12

c. The amount of life the survivors have at the start goes down rather than up with the number of players. This represents the fact that it is easier to win with more players, so the life total drops.

  • 1 player – 40 life
  • 2 players – 35 life
  • 3 players – 30 life
  • 4 players – 25 life

d. If the horde gains life, it puts that many cards from its graveyard, chosen at random, on the bottom of its library. This is the opposite of the rule for losing life and mirrors it, giving the Horde some additional options for power.

These rules are meant to be used together, especially the first two. You can start the Horde early if you are easing into it. I’m not a fan of those because I like the randomness of flipping eight tokens and money card or one token and a weak card.

However, I love the third rule there. The rationale makes total sense. After playing a bit, it is easier to defeat the Horde with more people. That’s why the deck gets larger and larger with the more people joined in battle against it. So why should you have extra life for the extra players? Going the opposite way works so much better. I fully support that change.

I understand where the final change is coming from. Hey, if the Horde gains life, they should restock their deck, right? I get it. I’m fine with you adopting it, but I don’t like some of the consequences. Many Horde decks have mass reanimation. My artifact one from my deck last week had Open the Vaults and Roar of Reclamation. I’ve seen Twilight’s Call and Living Death. If you allow life gain to restock the deck from the graveyard, you seriously change the nature of these cards. I get what the ability does, but I fear it actually weakens the Horde rather than strengthens it.

Instead, if you really want life gain for your Horde, maybe you should create shield points equal to the life gained. Any life lost is taken from the shield points before cards are milled again. Just track them on a d20 or something, much like real life. That would allow life gain, prevent graveyard shenanigans with it, and be faster. It should take some time to grab a graveyard, shuffle it, and grab a few cards at random, and then put them at the bottom of the deck. It’s much easier to add five to a d20. Plus, you can keep the graveyard order in case something cares about it.

Germ Warfare

4 Bad Moon
4 Adaptive Automaton
2 Brass Herald
4 Glorious Anthem
4 Gaea’s Anthem
2 Coat of Arms
4 Shared Triumph
1 Door of Destinies
2 Castle
1 Patriarch’s Bidding
72 Germ Tokens

Unlike other Hordes, due to the 0/0 nature of the Germs, I knew I needed a special deck. First of all, virtually every single card that flips up should keep the Germs alive somehow. You don’t want to flip three 0/0 Germ tokens and a Delirium Skeins. That’s not going to make sense. You need the Germs to stick.

This deck feels a bit like a rat deck. As you flip cards, the Germs get stronger and stronger. Before you know it, you have out a Bad Moon, a Glorious Anthem, and an Adaptive Automaton, and your Germs are getting stronger and stronger.

Technically, a few cards need decisions made—like Shared Triumph, Door of Destinies , Patriarch’s Bidding, and Adaptive Automaton—just always choose Germs. In reality, they aren’t real decisions. You should try to stay clear of including cards that actually need decisions to be made.

Remember that after you flip cards, you play the tokens first and then the card you flipped last. If you play a Brass Herald and reveal three Germs and put them in your hand, you can’t play them until next turn. That’s fine! (Although you could certainly rule that they could be played immediately if you wanted to.)

This deck features more tokens than normal. This is for two main reasons. First of all, Germs are so small individually; I really want to push the Horde mentality to the limit. You’ll get more tokens each time because it takes a while to build their size up to something threatening. We’ve gone from 40 cards that stop the flipping to just 28 cards that stop it. Of those 28, all but one makes the Germy-Germs bigger.

The best way to handle this deck is removal aimed at the enchantment and creature enablers. If you can target and remove Bad Moons and Anthems and Automatons and Heralds, then this Horde won’t threaten anybody or anything. Thus, any deck that can handle those card types will have serious gas against Germ Warfare.

The Door of Destinies is a bit wonky. You play the tokens you flipped and then drop the Door. At that point, your Germs may have already died, but next turn, you’ll get a ton of triggers, and it will be nasty powerful. I included just one copy because it’s so dangerous. It’s on par with powerful cards in other stacks like Plague Wind.

I know that some out there may not fully like the fact that I have a bunch of cards in my deck of different colors. The Zombie Horde decks I’ve seen are all black. For example, take Sheldon’s article from last week here on SCG. He modifies a Zombie Horde, which looks like a lot of fun, but he doesn’t include Strength of Night—an obvious inclusion for a Zombie Horde deck to my mind. Unlike some decks, Sheldon does have gold Zombies, and he included some good ones like Vulturous Zombie. That’s downright insane as a Zombie. For my artifact Horde deck, I went with just blue and white cards, but for this, the concept needed things like Castle and Glorious Anthem, Bad Moon, and Gaea’s Anthem. I know that some out there might prefer to keep things in one color, but a mono-black Germ Warfare deck would not be good. I’d up the number of artifact cards to max and then just increase the tokens to a very unfair amount.

Some Advanced Rules and Suggestions

The first thing you’ll notice is that some cards are particularly good against a Horde deck. All you have to do is add Echoing Decay or Sever the Bloodline and even Extinction. Imagine how nasty Engineered Plague would be against a Horde deck. Then look at cards that attack the library. Can you see how powerful an activated Grindstone would be? Mind Funeral is game over.

These types of cards are just unfair. Equally unfair is any card that the Horde cannot get around and destroy. How does it fight a Teferi’s Moat naming the color of the creatures? What about attacking through a Powerstone Minefield?

The original author added a banned list in a follow up article. That list is at 30 cards and growing quickly. Sheldon mentions several others, and I included more above. By the time that every card that should be banned is included in a big giant list, it could easily be 300-400 cards. That’s crazy, right?

Instead of giving you that list, I want to give you my personal principles for a banned list. After playing a bit, these are cards I would recommend that you stick away from. Now, if you are playing a regular Commander deck you already built against the Horde, and you draw a card that violates these principles, just exile it and draw another—no worries. Here we go:

Principle #1 – Alternate Win Conditions

How is the Horde supposed to fight against a Coalition Victory or anything else? How does the Horde interact with poison counters? I don’t know, so I recommend you stay clear of anything that would result in an alternate victory. Perhaps you can simply allow creatures with infect to be treated as though they do normal damage to the Horde. That would enable some decks and cards to be played that would not otherwise have value.

Principle #2 – Preventing Attacking

Any card that punishes or prevents the Horde from attacking in any way should be banned. This includes cards like Silent Arbiter and Dueling Grounds, cards like Magus of the Moat, cards like Caltrops, cards like No Mercy and Aurification, and even cards like Kismet and Urabrask the Hidden. There are a lot of cards out there that have this ability—Island Sanctuary, Crawlspace, Barbed Foliage, and many more. Some cards won’t matter. With infinite mana, Windborn Muse and Propaganda won’t have any effect at all. They would be fine.

Principle #3 – Preventing Playing Creatures

Any card that punishes or prevents the playing of creatures should be banned. This includes dealing damage (Aether Flash), requiring sacrifices (Tainted Aether), killing them (Lethal Vapors), and preventing it altogether (Aether Storm). If it merely taxes the playing of a creature with more mana, like Soul Barrier, then assume all costs are paid.

Principle #4 – Keeping You Alive

Any permanent which will keep you alive artificially (not through life gain or something) is banned. How is the Horde supposed to handle a Worship or a Platinum Angel? This includes cards like Solitary Confinement and more. I would allow temporary prevention effects (like Fog) and permanent ones that are not used against the Horde. Suppose you had a deck with Earthquake and Circle of Protection: Red, and you were facing a Goblin Horde. I would be fine with you using the COP: Red against your own Earthquake but not against the Horde. Also, things like Sphere of Law would be banned in that case.

Principle #5 – Search Library to Exile Tokens

Any card that is used for exiling all tokens from a deck is banned. You can’t play Haunting Echoes, for example. Similarly, Eradicate is a no-no. I don’t know if the rules of Magic would allow something like Cranial Extraction to eliminate them all, but if so, then it and similar cards (like Voidstone Gargoyle) should be banned as well. You get the idea.

Principle #6 – Hosing one Creature Type

Cards like Engineered Plague that hose just one creature type are clearly fouls against the Horde deck. I don’t mind hosers based on color, such as a protection from black creature against a Zombie Horde deck, so something like Elite Inquisitor would be fine with me too. Anything larger than that tings my fair-dar.

Principle #7 – Mass Milling

In general, cards that mill decks are allowed, including things like Millstones and whatnot. However, when you mill a ton of the Horde deck, you are destroying its life. In addition to cards that mill and break the format, like the above mentioned Mind Funereal, cards like Glimpse the Unthinkable and Traumatize are probably just too powerful. My basic rule is more than five cards in one go is too many, but others may come up with their own rules.

Principle #8 – Anything Else that Attacks the Weakness of the Horde Deck

This is a catchall category for any card you uncover that blows out the weaknesses of the Horde deck’s inability to do things like remove permanents or consistent deck construction. A good example is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. You get her out, and most Horde decks can’t do anything at all. Another is Leyline of Singularity. These sorts of cards attack the nature of the Horde deck to a much higher degree than other decks, and by preying on the weakness, are probably not good ideas.

Germ Warfare is a fun Horde. It plays oddly, and that’s cool. I’ve built the ubiquitous Zombie Horde deck and an artifact Horde deck, so that was my third one. I’ll probably build a few more. I’m looking at perhaps Spirits or Elementals.

Anyway, I hope you had a fun time today!

Until Later,

Abe Sargent