Saturday, September 14, 2013

Why Horde Sealed Deck?

This first article is an explanation of our motivation to begin playing Horde Magic in a Sealed-Deck Cube format.

For those who are unfamiliar with Horde Magic, the original article can be found here here . Another article about the format published on Wizards' site can be found here on Daily MTG . My playgroup began playing and had a great time, but after a while we noticed a few problems. Primarily, the power level difference between the Horde and the Survivors was simply too great. A typical Horde game with EDH decks is a blowout, once a good Commander deck gets rolling, it can simply break the Horde in half with almost no effort. Legacy or Modern decks do the same, even competitive, well constructed Standard decks are simply too much for the Horde to deal with. A single Kalonian Hydra will just stomp-stomp-stomp-win.
    A second problem is the "solving the format" problem. As numerous people have pointed out, it is completely trivial to assemble a deck that completely hoses the Horde. A Moat, an Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Eldish Norn, a Platinum Angel, any of these spells mean nearly certain defeat for the zombies, without any real effort by the players. All the tension is lost. Having an incredibly long ban list has been suggested and rebutted, because this is a causal format, and there are a LOT of cards that single-handedly BREAK Horde Magic. But Horde is still _fun_ . In the Daily MTG followup article, it was mentioned that playing some sort of Limited against the Horde could be fun. He uses a big blob of cards that he affectionately calls "The Stack".
    One could consider Draft, but Draft is an intrinsically antagonistic experience. You don't want the other player's decks to be as effective as possible, which doesn't square with the cooperative mode nature of Horde. Thus, one turns to Sealed Deck. Just get six packs worth of cards and assemble the best 40-or-more card defense you can muster. Ideally, the Survivor's _don't_ win every time. Zombie apocalypse movies rarely have the protagonist pick up their anti-zombie ray and simply waltz through the rest of the film. It feels like everyone could die at any second. And Horde should have the same tension. Which EDH decks and other well-made constructed decks simply don't provide.
   The first time we played Sealed Deck against the Horde, we had enough fun that we knew we had something fun on our hands. Our first "Cube" was simply random handfuls of common and uncommon cards, sitting in a box unsorted and unused. We passed out 90 cards (the equivalent of six 15-card booster packs, typical of Sealed Deck events) at random to each player and went to deckbuilding. Horde plays out very differently from a duel in Standard or an EDH game, so you have to evaluate cards very differently. A Pillarfield Ox is actually a very relevant body in this format (I'll write more on re-examining how you evaluate cards in a later post.) A good 30% of the cards in our pools were completely useless against the Horde. Sorcery-speed bounces, Goblin Shortcutters, Golgari Decoys. We simply left them out and built with what was left of our pool. And it was fun. Really fun. There were some very tense moments, waiting for someone to draw into a "clutch" card that could pull us out of a sticky situation with 10 tokens on the board and a Grave Titan staring us down. We won, but just by the skin of our teeth. Which is the experience I'd like to have every time I play Horde.
    We played a second time, using a different random set of rubber-banded stacks of forgotten cards, again taking 90 each and making the best zombie-killing machines we could. This time the power level was quite a bit higher. We slaughtered the horde twice in a row. And it was fun. But _less_ fun. You'd have to be stupid not to consider a card like Lumberknot as a snap-keep for this format. It quickly becomes an unstoppable murder machine that just chews through the Horde's cards. But having him available at all drains fun from the game. And this is casual Magic. Fun, not victory, is our primary export industry here.
    We spent the next weekend going through a _lot_ of those attic-banished cards, commons and uncommons that hadn't been in a deck in a long time, if ever. And we selected 400 to be our first Horde Sealed Deck Survivors' Cube. Useless cards that have no purpose in a Horde game were filtered out. There are a lot of these. Cards that can neuter the Horde by themselves were filtered out.  And, most importantly, _bad cards_ were let in. The temptation to make the Survivors' card selection of too high quality was one that had to be resisted at every turn. We (with our game designer hat on) need to limit our (with our player who wants to win hat on) choices to lead to a fun experience. This cube has had (at time of writing) a total of 7 games played with it so far, and they've all been a blast. Playing with lower power-level cards, but in a way that still encourages you to make the best deck you can, lead to a very fun experience. The Survivors' Cube is still in need of a lot of balancing, tweaking, and adjustment (white is too powerful at the moment), but if playing with an entirely random selection of cards resulted in fun, the experience is robust enough to withstand a bit of damage from amateur game designers like us. And this brings me to really great point about Magic. It's an incredibly robust, diverse, awesome system. The notion of power, toughness, mana, the color pie, these can contain competitive Standard, six-player mono-durdle EDH games, and Horde Magic, and they're all _fun_. Not every card fits in every format, but the base game system has really incredible versatility.

No comments:

Post a Comment