Would anyone believe me if I told them that, once upon a time in the world of Magic: the Gathering, Horobi, Death's Wail spiked out around seven dollars? Yet, such is the case as the information provided by FindMagicCards.com provides. What must have been going through the minds of the people who first saw Horobi spoiled with the release of Champions of Kamigawa? Did anyone see in him the potential to change game states drastically enough to warrant a high price rating?
To answer that question, I turn to the format of Commander in which anything- including infinite squirrel tokens- can happen, given enough time, mana and creativity. First, let's take a look at what Horobi does exactly. What's he all about?
Converted mana cost: 2BB
Important Keywords: Flying
Triggered ability: Whenever a creature becomes the target of a spell or ability, destroy that creature.
So what we have is a 4/4 flier for 4 mana. Okay, well and good. Was the legendary creature clause together with the target ability designed to be a drawback, or a strength? It's hard to tell whether Wizards wanted to print a card that would power aggro strategies or whether they wanted to enable mono-black control to a ridiculous extent. Regardless, Horobi is what it is: a creature that likes to see other creatures destroyed. Thus, "Death's Wail." Let's take a look at the deck I've built to exploit what might be an atrocious drawback on this mono-black creature.
A lot of lands, such as Hammerheim are designed without the "creature you control clause." You can do it to any creature. When you use the ability of Shizo, Death's Storehouse, you can kill anyone's general at instant speed by tying up two lands- so long as Horobi is in play. In fact, the entire deck revolves around getting Horobi in play and then doing funny things with him.
Desert's ability has a drawback of a different kind. You can only use it on a creature that (presumably) dealt someone combat damage. If an opponent isn't able to get rid of Horobi, they generally won't attack unless they are sure they can win by doing so. If your opponents start playing (Camel), well, you can still target them, but the Camel won't take any damage.
Three other choices you can use to kill creatures by using lands:
Island of Wak-Wak must be an interesting place. I have often wondered what the indigeneous people there are like, if they are so capable of rendering powerful flying creatures powerless in a land with hand-shaped fruit. The drawback: the creature you target has to have flying. A further drawback: Island of Wak-Wak doesn't actually add mana to your pool. It's not really worth including unless you know in advance you will be facing a deck heavy with fliers.
Both Mazes here will put Horobi's trigger on the stack and destroy (rather than exile) an attacking creature. Note that they don't have be attacking you. These lands can also pose a considerable problem with attack-heavy decks that rely on fatties swinging at you.
Commander is a format where anything can happen, right? Well, as it happens, in Commander, with Horobi and either of these two artifacts together on the field at once, you can destroy that pesky Akroma, Angel of Wrath or any other creature with protection from black. Once that creature becomes the target of an artifact's ability, they are dead. Hear that? That's the sound of burning angel wings.
More of the same here, just as noted with Crown of Empires. You have to equip a creature before Horobi comes into play. Otherwise, you will destroy your own creature with Horobi's trigger. I am not yet sure whether Acorn Catapult's trigger will resolve after it no longer has legal targets from Horobi killing it. Does a player get a squirrel token? Even if they do, killing their general for one mana and leaving a 1/1 creature behind is by no means a bad trade. Which would you rather see in play?
At some point, it must get repetitive, sitting around targeting stuff, right? In fact, as long as a creature can be targeted, it should be targeted by a Horobi deck. Here are a few examples of how that can happen with creatures:
Zombie Trailblazer is by far the most efficient creature I've found to put a target on another creature. Give it swampwalk, it dies. If your opponent has no creatures in play, you can just tap it to make a swamp on their upkeep. This ability is important for when Horobi is in play and an opponent has Maze of Ith. They won't be able to use it until you attack, and you can just make it a swamp before you attack. Thus, you won't have to worry about Horobi's trigger being put on any of your own creatures.
As with Acorn Catapult, I am not sure whether the Consumptive Goo's ability resolves or not. Does it get stronger from destroying creatures? In any case, four mana is not too much to destroy any problem creature your opponent might have, so long as you have the mana available.
Rathi Trapper is the color-shifted version of Blinding Mage. In some decks, his three creature types might matter, but Horobi doesn't really care. He just sits there wailing away while the Rathi Trapper says means things to Elves. See how scared that Elf is? This is one creepy guy. Although he's not really meant to tap creatures. Repeat after me: Horobi trigger destroys them.
The same goes for Disciple of Tevesh Szat, a cleric who doesn't like wearing pants while he's looking at Vikings through his scrying glass. Sometimes he'll kill creatures with one toughness, but that is by no means certain. Instead, he likes to hang out Horobi and, you guessed it, kill stuff with a triggered ability. That's what he does.
Necrotic Ooze is in the deck! You know what that means! Happy fun graveyard shenanigans time!
There aren't that many ways to deliberately put cards in the graveyard from my own deck, such as Buried Alive. Instead, I am operating under the assumption that my opponents will use Horobi's trigger to their own advantage. So what happens when you have some interesting creatures in your graveyard and a 4/3 Ooze in play? Well, you could sacrifice Necrotic Ooze to put Xiahou Dun in your hand, sacrifice Xiahou Dun to put Necrotic Ooze in your hand, sacrifice Necrotic Ooze to put Xiahou Dun in your hand....
Or you could just pay 1 life and kill every creature you don't control. Hopefully there aren't too many out there. Kuro and Horobi are bffs. They love hanging out while making awkward ululations. They're even planning on auditioning for American Idol. Are they the favorites to win?
Each card on the board by itself disrupts the game. Bloodchief Ascension is a brutal turn one play. Get it running hot and then destroy stuff with Horobi's trigger. Watch the life drain out. If you've got Mindcrank, in addition to losing life, your opponents have to mill cards. Milling is a risk in Commnder, given the vast amounts of recursion everywhere. Play at your own discretion, folks.
I suppose at some point, we'll actually have to sit down and win the game. Oh, all right, if you say so...
Both Mortivore and Drana are good beatdown engines. Note that they both have activated abilities Necrotic Ooze can make use of. Unfortunately, Mortivore doesn't have trample and Drana requires a bit of mana to get going. Horobi as a general means you as a player are prohibited from using a lot of funky swords from both Mirrodin blocks. Nor can you rely on Lightning Greaves or Swiftfoot Boots. Both will kill your own general. So, you're out there in the cold without hexproof or shroud, and you'll have to do the best you can. Fortunately, both these creatures are rather powerful in the late game.
Here are two other ways to affect life totals. Patron of the Nezumi is never going to be used for his rat offering cost. Come now, rats don't target creatures, they target players. So he's a 7 drop 6/6 creature every day of the week. Blood Artist, on the other hand, is a fragile little guy that likes to hang out in the secret room of the blood bank with his canvases and paintbrush. Not sure what he does in there. Can you call it art? Well, if an opponent's creature does die- which is the purpose of the whole deck- then you can leech life out of them.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there are a few cards which can entirely wreck your strategy. They are as follows:
The keywords "indestructible," "shroud" and "hexproof" more or less nerf your entire deck. The only out in this situation is Mutilate. Hopefully you have a lot of lands. My observations of Commander lead me to believe that if given the choice between a threat and an answer, players would rather play a threat. It goes without saying that the smelly doodle-head Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre outclasses poor little helpless Horobi. Eldrazi are such bullies! But, hopefully you can Tragic Slip him out of play.
It may be hard to tell what's going on in this video since the version 4 client, unlike the version 3 client, does not re-scroll through the list of triggers that are put on the stack or the cards that are revealed throughout the game. I struggled early on using Desert to kill a 1/1 goblin. I found out in the course of the game that you have to put a stop in your opponent's combat damage step. Otherwise, you can't use Desert's ability. My opponent in this match runs Krenko, Mob Boss. The deck is obviously meant to swing in with a bunch of goblin tokens. I think for this theme, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker would be better. Without any card draw, my opponent runs out of gas and I use Lake of the Dead to power my way into Kuro, Pitlord to secure the game state. I would have been at 7 life, but my opponent concedes right off the bat, telling me Jokulhaups and Obliterate aren't in their build.
A quick note: before playtesting, I thought I had put in Life's Finale to add to the Sepulchral Primordial I recently picked up. As a result, I used Night Dealings to tutor for a card with 6 cmc expecting to blow up the board. Life's Finale wasn't in the deck, so I drew Caged Sun instead. Exsanguinate would also have been a good choice in that situation as I had a lot of mana but was behind in life totals. Oddly enough, Kami of the Waning Moon proved useful for the first time ever.
Although I tried to record more videos for this article in time for publication, it proved impossible. I had a lot of people quit on me when they realized the theme of the deck. Then I played a match where a player in a four-player match dropped out and everyone else left the game as well (possibly because I was so far ahead). Then I played a match in which I had to resign because chores needed doing around the house. Then I played a game where a player mulliganed to zero, dropped out and another player used a strong Prime Speaker Zegana build and bullied everyone else at the table after being ganged up on when he or she revealed Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger. I quit that match rather than put up with the player's abrasive comments. It seems this past week was a difficult week to play Commander and have people respectfully all the way through.
This is actually a very different experience than what I have in paper where I can play a few matches with someone while we're both using the same decks. Even if it's clear one of us has an advantage, we'll still play for the fun of it. Not so online. People are cranky. Interruptions happen. The program crashes. Real life gets in the way. This is one advantage paper play has over online play: it's more fun to interact with actual people rather than anonymous individuals behind screen names.
What else might a mono-black deck such as this need? Beyond the usual expected inclusions of Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, here are a few additions I put in after testing the deck.
These two seem to go good together. Life's Finale lets me deal with problem creatures like Avacyn, Angel of Hope. It can be good if you're playing effects that steal cards from graveyards, but it can be bad if an opponent has Genesis in their graveyard. Hopefully, you're playing multiplayer where you can target someone who doesn't have that card. The Primordial really makes his value felt when he is recurred through various ways, such as Animate Dead. Then you're just stealing creatures everywhere. Blow them up Horobi's trigger, take them for yourself. The card advantage generated this way is very difficult to overcome.
Aside hitting for seven flying, everyone I came across knew that this guy was a threat. Which is worse, exiling seven cards or stealing an opponent's creature? Even if you choose not to steal it, there are very few options for them to get it back. His cost of 7 will make him hard (but not impossible) to play in standard, yet he ought to be a Commander staple for every mono-black deck. Some cards like Xathrid Demon make you build around them to work. This guy just says, "put me in play, let me do my thing and I won't ask you to help me out." This is very much unlike most demons which have been printed to require a sacrifice of something before it deals damage to you.
Overall, Horobi is a fun general to play. The key here is perhaps finding a good week in which people don't feel like quitting. He's not impossible to beat, since he's a slow roll to winning by combat damage. Opponents with swarms and combo decks can beat him. However, he will stop other midrange decks from doing their thing. He may be better suited to a competitive environment where the power levels are a bit higher. If so, cards like Decree of Pain and Overwhelming Forces will surely help in those situations. Given the large amount of creature-based strategies out there, Horobi is definitely a general worth playing.