The Horde Cube: A Single Player and Co-Op Draft Format

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and through these endeavors I believe I have created an exciting new way to play Magic: the Gathering. I would like to introduce the horde cube a co-operative casual draft environment that can be played by yourself or with your friends. This format combines cube with its infinite deck possibilities from drafting, and horde a version of Magic where you and your friends face a swarm of zombie tokens. If you are unfamiliar with either cube or horde I’d recommend reading The Basics which explains both of these in more detail. Otherwise, skip to The Rules of the Cube to learn how to start playing the horde cube.

Link to the Horde Cube

The Basics

Cube is a variant of booster pack draft where instead of having to buy a booster box every time you draft you instead curate a collection of cards that can be drafted repeatedly. At the end of the cube draft you put all the cards back in a box and you have a draft environment that you can use whenever you want. Typically cubes are drafted by handing three packs of 15 cards to each player and taking one card from the pack and passing it. This cube uses a variant called grid drafting which I’ll get into later in the article.

Horde is a variant of Magic that pits the players against what is called the horde deck. This deck is a pile of tokens, typically zombies, and various cards in the deck that usually work as supporting cards for all the zombie tokens. The deck can then play by itself without player input by flipping cards from the top of the deck. If it reveals a token it puts it on the battlefield and flips again until it hits a nontoken card which it will then cast as if it has infinite mana. All of their creatures have haste and attack each turn if able. If the horde deck must make a decision it will do so as randomly as possible, and if a card has an activated ability it will use it once that turn before combat. If you’d like to read more about horde as a format check out this article for more information.

The Rules of the Horde Cube

This cube is drafted via grid drafting in which you lay out cards in a 3×3 pattern. One player drafts either a row or a column and then the other player will draft a row or column from the remaining cards. The leftover cards are then discarded and you reveal a new pack of 9 cards and you repeat this process 18 times, and then build decks with what you drafted. This is my preferred way of drafting a cube when you have only one other person to play with.

Coincidentally, it also works pretty well when you have no one to play with and a lot of zombie tokens. The horde cube tweaks the grid formula slightly in order to simulate having another player. Once you lay out the cards in the 3×3 pattern you assign each row and column a number between 1 through 6. Then you roll a six-sided dice and whatever number the dice rolls the horde deck will take that row or column of cards and “draft” it. You then draft a row/column as usual. Rather than discarding the remaining cards you instead give them to the horde deck as if it drafted them.

At the end of the draft the horde deck will have tons of cards. To balance this the horde deck is only allowed to play the Black cards it drafts. This creates interesting scenarios when you see a powerful Black card get flipped over such as [scrylink]Grave Titan[/scrylink]. If you get unlucky the horde deck could just draft it by rolling for the correct row/column. However, if it doesn’t draft the card immediately it will still get the card at the end of the round unless you pick the row/column that card is in. This creates interesting decisions where you must decide if the key card of your deck in the corner is more important than hate drafting the bomb the horde deck is getting at the end of the round.

Once you’re done drafting give the horde deck 13 tokens shuffle the Black cards it drafted into the deck and then build your deck as normal with the only restriction being you can’t play any Black cards you drafted. You get 3 turns of setup before the horde deck begins to flip cards, and then you are off to the races. Any time a player deals damage to the horde deck it will mill that many cards and it will lose when it starts its turn without any cards in the deck. The player loses if they are dropped from 20 life to 0. You now know everything you need to start playing this cube by yourself.

Expanding to multiplayer is fortunately very simple. For every player beyond the first add either a row or column to the grid and at the end of the draft add 13 tokens per player to the horde deck. Refer to the table below for helpful information when you want to play multiplayer. When running the horde deck against multiple opponents a simple way to randomize who the horde deck attacks each turn is to flip a card and assign it to always target that player with any decisions it makes. Other than that the rules are the same each player gets 20 life and when you mill out the horde deck you win the game as a team.

PlayersRows/ColumnsPacks NeededTotal Cards Required
This was calculated so each player ends the draft with ~45 cards.

That’s all you need to know to play the cube. Shuffle it up, draft it with some friends, and play against the horde deck until you finally beat it. Is it to strong or not challenging you enough? You can change the number of tokens you give the horde deck at the end of the draft or change the cards in the cube. The longest portion is the draft, but the games move by so quickly you can easily play against the horde deck several times before you’ll want to draft again. I’d recommend trying it out in Tabletop Simulator, available on Steam, if you want to see how the cube plays out. (Not sponsored). If you want to learn about the insight that went into making this cube stick around for the second half of this article where I talk about my cube specifically, and changes that can be made to better accommodate your playgroup.

Designing the Horde Cube

While this cube works really well as a single player format I actually designed it with two player co-operative play in mind. Cube drafting has obviously suffered this past year, and I’ve been trying to get my wife to play more Magic with me. 1on1 Magic has never interested her, and she only plays Magic if it is through Commander or Two-Headed Giant. Both of these formats require at least 4 people which we haven’t had on hand. So for the past six months I’ve struggled to figure out a way in which we can play Magic together as a team even though there are only two players.

I immediately knew that horde was the way to go but I couldn’t figure out how to implement it as a draftable format. I wanted to do this because I get bored of playing the same deck multiple times and the idea of a draftable horde deck intrigued me. But I could never figure out the mechanics behind it. Hidden information during a co-operative draft seemed pointless to me and I wracked my brain trying to figure out how the horde deck could be influenced by the draft. I shelved the idea and waited for inspiration.

Last week after working on my 5 More Unique Cubes article I finally realized that what I needed was grid draft. The information is there for everyone, it’s easy to implement, and randomizing it is as simple as rolling a dice. Adding in that the horde takes leftover cards created very important tension when drafting as it helps you influence the horde deck in meaningful ways. My first thought went to tribal decks as I had recently written about the Horror Cube by CavsFangelo and really wanted to have flavor be one of the most important aspects in the cube.

After finding hundreds of cards, breaking singleton to support niche tribes, and creating a common/uncommon/rare split across all the cards in the cube I finally got to playtest it. The cards we drafted were boring and weak. After talking with some friends (shoutout to the Solely Singleton Patreon discord for helping me with this cube so much) I realized that the problem was the tribes. It was a tough decision after spending so many hours finding so many cards but I eventually cut all of them to make way for more generically powerful cards that scaled well in multiplayer. This proved to be a lot more fun and dynamic and I’m happy I made this choice as it also makes it easier to customize and make it into your own thing.

I’m telling this story because I think that aspiring designers can learn from it. Designing a cube is a time consuming process and it is very easy to sink dozens of hours into something that ends up not being fun. Being willing to throw the baby out with the bathwater is hard but can lead to something much more rewarding. It won’t always work, but you can always go back to something that did and iterate on it to try to find the thing you found fun about it and expand on that idea.

Customizing the Cube

My hope for this article is that it will introduce people to a whole new way of experiencing cube draft, and will expand what people believe is possible with the format. That is why I have aimed for the horde cube to be as customizable as possible. The archetypes that are present in the cube leans more towards goodstuff so that if you’d like to change the cube you are free to do so. I tried tribal and it didn’t work, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Do you have more than 4 players? Try turning it into a traditional draft where the horde deck burns a card from each pack after you pass it. Don’t like zombies? Try slivers! Oh god no please don’t put your players through that kind of torture.

Balancing this cube has been difficult. It has gone through many iterations already and one draft will find 13 tokens overwhelming while for another it is a cakewalk. I’ve found in my admittedly limited testing that facing the cube by yourself is incredibly challenging, but adding another player can make it significantly easier. Trying to figure out the right number of tokens was difficult because sometimes it’ll flip 6 tokens on turn 3 and then casts an [scrylink]Army of the Damned[/scrylink] and that’s the game. It’s difficult to balance something when the players actions increase exponentially, but the zombie gets tokens at a linear rate. If you are unhappy with the numbers I have shown in this article please change them. I chose 13 because it was the happy medium between 10 and 15 which were the numbers I tested, and it fits the theme of the cube.

I think this is a format that can also be spliced onto existing cubes fairly easily as well. Infect the draft with these extra cards and show their difference by having them be in a different sleeve and then you can play any Black cards in your normal cube. I chose for Black to be undraftable because I believe that with less players there isn’t as much need for more colors and it is very easy to tell the players they can’t play Black. It would also feel pretty good to storm off before the zombie deck has a chance to play any cards on turn two. If you have any questions about the cube feel free to ask in the comments below.

Link to the Horde Cube

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8 thoughts on “The Horde Cube: A Single Player and Co-Op Draft Format

  1. There are schemes in this cube. How do they work? Can you draft them into your own scheme deck? Can the horde draft them (they technically don’t have a color)?

    1. The schemes are for the horde deck. Just treat them as cards that cost 10 mana essentially. As for the size issue, just proxy them at normal size so that they can be shuffled into the deck.

  2. Hey, I saw your article and immediately decided I needed to build one of these as my next cube.

    I was thinking though, wouldn’t this be a good cube to try to make modular? If the horde deck was marked with sleeves or a dot on the card or something instead of by color as you said, it would be pretty easy to make various 70 card “horde modules” and 45 card “player modules” that could be intermixed to make a unique draft each time. This way one game could have burn in the red section and play against zombies, but the next game could have goblins in red that play against Eldrazi.

    I also have some thoughts on rules to make a “hand” for the horde to play so that the horde deck can increase it’s own tempo as the game progresses.

    Do you have any advice you could give me on how you chose the specific cards for the cube and how you gauged the players power levels against the horde?

    1. I love the idea of adding modular elements! I think what you suggested is a great idea, and I’d love to see it in action. As for the power level of cards, I wasn’t overly worried about the power level. I focused primarily on cards that I thought would be fun to play with and against. It especially matters that the horde deck is fun to play against because while it could play spells like Armageddon that wouldn’t make for a fun gameplay experience. If through testing you find a card to be unbeatable every time you play against it, then it is probably time to remove it. However, be aware of the game state whenever a card is removed in this way. If all you needed was a Pyroclasm to defeat an Army of the Damned it might be worth putting more board wipe effects into the cube instead of cutting that card.

      1. That’s great advice and maybe something that will sort itself out somewhat in the modular version too – one module in a color can have more wrath effects while another can be geared more toward targeted removal for bigger creatures.

        So here’s my idea with the horde’s “hand”. You would still flip the first round of cards off the top of the deck and straight onto the battlefield, but then if the horde has any cards in hand it plays one of them (or all if them, haven’t decided) as well in a first in first out fashion. This lets the horde increase it’s tempo to some degree because it drops extra cards, but it also lets bouce and discard effects have some relevant play against the horde. It also opens up some doors for effects like Baloth Null. Imagine dropping that into play and then getting hit with an extra card for the next two turns. Do you think it is a good idea or too over-the-top?

  3. The challenge with introducing a hand to the horde is that you need to figure out what triggers the horde to play a card, and what card they will decide to play. You want to minimize the amount of decisions the horde deck needs to make because if it makes a decision it has to be done randomly, whereas the meat of the game is usually the players trying to figure out the puzzle that the horde has presented. Less downtime spent dealing with the horde means more time for the players. I wouldn’t know how to go about it, but if you figure out a system that works I’d like to hear about it.

    1. I was just planning on going first in first out. The horde would play one extra card per turn right after flipping like usual. Imagine the cards get put in the horde’s hand laid out left to right. We’d just have it play whatever is farthest left. Because they would be the same cards played in the horde deck you wouldn’t need to worry about targeting and triggers any worse than you would usually. I’ll give it a try and let you know! Thanks for the inspiration man! We have four regulars for game nights and this seems like a perfect fit.

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