For Horde decks, cards that can be played as a small threat or as a large one are invaluable. These two-tiered cards are fantastic, since in the early game when players are developing their board they will have a small but meaningful effect, but if they appear in the late game they’re still relevant, as they create a larger impact. By including cards that scale up as the game goes on, setup becomes much simpler: all you have to do is shuffle the Horde deck and start playing. There is no need to carefully divide the cards into multiple piles or to manipulate the Horde’s library in some weird way.
This idea of two-tiered spells was the driving principle behind the inclusion of Processor cards in my Eldrazi Horde. At the start of the game these cards are moderate threats, but as the Eldrazi inevitably exile cards from the players’ libraries they become larger and deadlier. By the time this happens, however, the players have had time to build up their defenses and have a reasonable chance at stopping these now larger threats. Similarly, in my Lich’s Horde the copies of Undead Servant and Feast of Flesh provide ever-growing threats as the game goes on.
Late Game Mechanics
Over the years we’ve seen a lot of keyword abilities that provide these additional effects in the latter half of a game, such as Threshold, Delirium, and Ascend. These ‘toggled’ mechanics are each tied to a very specific game state, like having a certain number of permanents in play, and this helps to inform your decisions when building the deck. The drawback is that it also serves to constrain your choices. A Metalcraft deck, for instance, needs to have a certain density of artifacts to function the way it is intended, and without that the mechanic falls flat.
One of the most flexible of these late-game mechanics is Kicker. Because most Kicker costs come in the form of additional mana, these cards can fit into most any deck, as they are mechanically independent; to get their bonus effects they don’t require you to exile cards or to play certain card types, or keep an eye on the number of permanents in play.
The Turning Point
While Kicker cards are versatile and seem like ideal scaling threats in a Horde deck, they’re actually a bit more difficult to include in this format than most of the previously mentioned abilities. Because Horde decks don’t use mana, how do you know when to apply a Kicker bonus? Maybe you just never apply it (easy mode), or you apply it right from the start of the game (hard mode), but neither of these options provide that desired scaling over the course of the game.
The first step clearly beomes establishing when that turning point happens: at some point during the game the deck will start applying its Kicker bonuses. If you can establish what triggers this transition, then you will have a good idea of how your Horde deck should be structured, of what the Horde deck is trying to do, and of what the players will be trying to avoid.
Incorporating Kicker cards alongside other ‘toggled’ mechanics is certianly a viable option; maybe you built a Delirium deck but you want some extra variety in the cards you include, such as the dementia-magic wielding Caligo Skin-Witch. The Horde would thus pay for Kicker when it has Delirium. While this works, it is admittedly somewhat inelegant, and doesn’t take full advantage of Kicker’s versatility.
One idea I like is to keep a tally of certain triggers over the course of the game. After a certain number these triggers, the Horde deck would then apply its Kicker bonuses. For instance, the tally could increase each time a player plays a land, or whenever they cast a spell with a certain cost. This could give the players the opportunity to prevent the Horde from ever paying for its Kicker costs, but in doing so they would greatly constrain their resources.
Another option might be to have a specific trigger ‘activate’ the Kicker bonuses, such as when a certain card is revealed from the Horde deck or when the players perform a designated action, like destroying a creature for the first time. Depending on the trigger the players could potentially still have agency over when the Horde deck starts paying for its Kicker costs, or it could be something that the players will inevitability have to face, no matter what.
Writing the Rules
The possibilities with Kicker spells in Horde decks are endless. Whatever you need your Horde deck to do, Kicker cards can provide a scaling threat that isn’t tied to a particular board state or theme. Additionally, because the Horde deck already does away with using mana as a resource, it is not that big of a leap for players to understand that Kicker costs would also work differently than normal. All that would be required is to add a section in your deck rules explaining when and how the Horde gets to pay for its Kicker costs.
Here’s an example of how it might work:
The Harsh Wilds
The Horde deck begins the game with a Forest in the command zone. Whenever a creature enters the battlefield under the players’ control, put a number of Rage counters on the Forest depending on the creature’s power:0 – 1 No counter2-3 : 1 counter4-5 : 2 counters
6+ : 3 counters
Additionally, whenever a creature the Horde deck controls is killed, add a Rage counter to the Forest. If thst creature had a +1/+1 counter on it, add 2 Rage counters instead.
Whenever the Horde deck casts a spell with Kicker, it gains an amount of mana equal to the number of Rage counters on the Forest to pay Kicker costs. If it does not have enough mana, it cannot pay for the Kicker, and casts the spell without it.If the Kicker cost is paid, remove a Rage counter from the Forest.
In this Horde deck, cards like Untamed Kavu and Baloth Gorger would be at the core, with Wild Onslaught and some older Kicker spells, like Pincer Spider, to help round things out. I imagine the theme of this deck would be something similar to Karn’s expedition into Yavimaya: trying to find a lost relic while fighting back the dangers of the forest.
Well, that about wraps it up for this week. I hope you enjoyed the article, as well as the other recent Rants exploring Horde Magic. If you’d like to see more articles about this cooperative format, or if you have some thoughts of your own, please let me know in the comments! I have a few ideas brewing and would love to hear what you think.
Until next time, I hope your threats scale up at a managable rate.