The Knowledge Pool - Horde of Notions
(Adam Rex)| Art by
A Maelstrom of Ideas
Hi everyone! Welcome back to The Knowledge Pool!
We each have styles of decks that we find appealing or unappealing. By now, my brewing preferences are probably clear: I prefer decks that do big things that synergize around my commander. Less obvious are the decks I find unappealing. As I browse my collection of decks, there are two categories that are lacking: tribal decks and four- or five-color decks. While I can see the appeal that these decks may have for some players, both have qualities I find particularly dissatisfying.
Tribes tend to either have mountains of support or very little at all, but both deck styles are locked into a limited pool of potential card choices if they want to stay on-theme. Most tribal decks will aim to run the best cards in their respective pools, with the more highly supported tribes, like Elves, building a cohesive (if not redundant) strategy. On the other hand, decks like Knights may be able to build a viable deck, but maintaining the tribal theme will require delving into some particularly substandard cards. Both supported and unsupported tribes can produce a potent deck, but the reduced card pool limits the creativity I find so appealing. Personally, I feel obligated to play the best cards in my tribe, or else I'm forced into playing "good stuff" if I want my deck to have enough punch.
Decks with four or five colors present nearly the opposite problem. With so many options, keeping a deck on-theme can be a headache. Often I'll try to build a four- or five-color deck and find myself bogged down with possibilities to the point where the end product feels compromised. The temptation of leaning heavily on "good stuff" is perpetually my downfall.
It's worth noting that the deficiencies I observe in these deck styles are not an indictment of the styles themselves, but rather a characterization of myself as a player. As I've begun to explore brews outside my typical deck building interests, I've considered several tribal and multicolored options, and I've finally found a commander that satisfies both categories. Not only that, but it alleviates some of the issues I just outlined. Today we'll be putting Horde of Notions in the spotlight and building Elemental tribal!
Elementals aren't a particularly cohesive tribe, but they don't lack in the potency department, with many sporting large powers and overwhelming abilities. Synergies for Elementals tend to originate from the Lorwyn block, which offered tribe-specific land and ramp spells, and introduced trends for the Elemental creature type, where they often feature enter-the-battlefield (ETB) abilities. Elementals also benefit from being ubiquitous across each new plane, usually receiving one or two new entries with every set, and they aren't limited to any particular color combination.
offers Elementals a five-color commander, which gives us a fairly large thematic card pool while offering some tidy constraints. The general lack of synergy among Elementals is apparent when we consider Horde of Notions's activated ability: for WUBRG, we can return an Elemental from our graveyard to the battlefield. Clearly this ability was intended to play nicely with the Evoke ability on many of the Lorwyn Elementals, but it also presents us a unique reanimation angle that isn't directly synergistic with the Elementals from other sets. However, while brewing this deck, I quickly discovered that the better Elementals tend to lean towards higher casting costs, so the possibility of dumping our dudes into the bin and casting them with Horde of Notions seems like the best way to get the most from our commander and our tribe. It's not a specifically reanimator deck, but those options will certainly be on our radar.
Let's take a look at where I ended up with my deck.
Horde of Notions
There are a couple of observations we can make about this decklist. First, we have a fairly even distribution of colors in our casting costs, but we have a clear slant toward green. Our heavier green focus shouldn't come as surprise when we consider that we have an average mana cost of 3.87, and green will provide us the ramp to be able to cast our spells consistently. Green ramping will also benefit us as we try to fix our mana to fit the diversity of casting costs in this deck.
Speaking of mana, another observation we can make about this list is the budget manabase. This is a deck I've built in real life, and while Shocklands and Fetchlands would give this deck a tremendous boost in consistency, they're simply not an option for me at the moment. Luckily, a combination of tri-lands and gold lands (ex. Exotic Orchard, Cascading Cataracts, Path of Ancestry, etc.) make building a budget five-color deck a real possibility. This deck will be considerably slower because of our manabase compromises, but I'm hopeful that it won't be too great a hindrance in a less competitive meta.
We're running 21 Elementals, and of these, only 6 cost less than 4 mana. To buoy this heavy top end, we have 13 pieces of ramp, the bulk of which costs 3 or less. Ideally we'll be ramping on turns 2 and 3 so that we can start dropping Elementals every turn after. This ramp package is also insurance in the event we can't get Horde of Notions going, giving us the chance to play out our bigger spells without any help.
I embraced the "good stuff" nature of five-color decks when considering the glue of the deck. Elementals have a few synergistic choices for removal, and limited options when it comes to card draw. For both of these, I tended towards the more powerful options I could get my hands on. We have 7 ways to eliminate enchantments, 8 ways to destroy artifacts, and 9 ways kill creatures, with cards like Anguished Unmaking and Assassin's Trophy pulling weight in all three categories. For draw spells, I aimed for efficient options that would allow me to simultaneously dump dudes in the yard. This way we have some targets for Horde of Notions while also digging towards the cards we need.
Now that we have some idea of how the deck is constructed, let's go into some detail regarding individual card choices, starting with our Elementals.
The Table of Elements
One of the fun parts about building around Elementals is realizing how many Commander veterans share this creature type. Cards like Mulldrifter, Shriekmaw, Bane of Progress, and Avenger of Zendikar are all powerful cards in our format, while Animar, Soul of Elements, Omnath, Locus of Rage, Muldrotha, the Gravetide, and Maelstrom Wanderer are excellent commanders in and of themselves. Because so many of these cards are well-known to most players, I want to highlight a few that I'm excited to try here.
Before building this deck, I had never heard of Slithermuse, which is surprising given how much potential it has. In a slower Commander game, at least one player will likely be stockpiling cards, which means we will usually come out ahead drawing three or four cards when Slithermuse dies. If we can even draw two cards from Slithermuse we'll be on par with the value output of Mulldrifter, and the fact that Slithermuse has an Evoke ability means we can cash in when the time is right.
I've noticed that many lists omit Baleful Force, and the reason is usually related to the BBB in its casting cost. While this cost will sometimes be prohibitive, I'm more excited about the possibility of dumping Baleful Force and bringing it back with Horde of Notions for WUBRG. If we can get Force to stick around, we'll quickly be drawing enough cards to outpace most other decks.
Whisperwood Elemental is a card that doesn't receive enough love in most creature-based strategies, and I really like it here. Manifesting a card every turn is solid value, especially when there's a good chance they can be flipped into a real creature. However, the primary reason I've included Whisperwood is because of the protection it provides against Wrath-style removal. We're not too unhappy about losing our board since Horde of Notions can bring back our dudes, but Whisperwood makes removing our guys more unappealing by turning each body into a Manifest. Odds are good that a few of them will even be worth flipping into something more powerful.
The last card I want to look at is Incandescent Soulstoke. Soulstoke is awesome in this deck, buffing our dudes while also being a tribal-focused Sneak Attack. Slipping an Avenger of Zendikar or other huge creature into play will catch a lot of players off guard, and once our Elemental hits the yard it will be yet another target for Horde.
The Elementals are the heart of this deck, and like most decks we have a handful of spells that synergize nicely with our game plan. Let's look over these cards next.
I've tried to group the synergistic inclusions based on application, and while there aren't a ton of cards in these categories, the ones included should be impactful.
Because many of our creatures have Evoke abilities and several others have impactful ETB abilities, I've included a couple ways to double up on these. Eerie Interlude gives our creatures an additional layer of protection against Wraths while Panharmonicon will copy all of our triggers. Flickerwisp also fits into this category while simultaneously carrying the Elemental creature type.
Because our Elementals are happy to hang out in the graveyard, I've included a few sac outlets to get extra value from them. Evolutionary Leap will let us dig into additional Elementals while Birthing Pod will let us create a chain of creatures to find the right interactions for each situation. I've talked about Greater Good on many occasions, and I really like it in this deck as well. Many of our Elementals are powerful, meaning that we'll be able to cash in a couple creatures to draw deep. It's worth noting that in addition to Horde of Notions, Muldrotha, the Gravetide will also let us reanimate our dudes, giving us an additional option for recovering any of the Elementals we sacrifice.
I don't have a great title for the last category, but both cards are worth acknowledging. Fauna Shaman will let us find any Elemental we want on demand while dumping dudes for Horde to revive. Maelstrom Nexus isn't directly synergistic here, but we'll be able to trigger it by casting dudes from our graveyard with Horde. Both of these cards aim to provide us extra value to pull ahead of our opponents.
Having covered the synergistic and tribal elements of our deck, let's move on to the glue that will keep us in the game: ramp, card draw, and removal.
Ramp, Draw, and Removal
The majority of our ramp selections should be familiar to most enfranchised Commander players. Farseek and Nature's Lore provide us a cheap way to fix our mana, while Cultivate will ensure we hit our land drops while fixing our mana.
I would like to highlight two cards that I think could be particularly impactful for our deck. Hour of Promise is excellent for this deck given our budget manabase. We aren't running many utility lands, but Hour of Promise will always let us fill in the holes in our fixing while helping us hit the seven mana mark. For this deck, seven mana is particularly crucial, since we only have three spells that cost more than seven (one of which is Blasphemous Act, which doesn't really count), and because Horde of Notions will cost seven when we cast it the second time. If we can follow up Hour of Promise with a land drop, we should be set to cast any cards in our deck.
The second card I want to highlight is Prismatic Geoscope. Geoscope will tap for variable amounts of mana, but we're more than happy if we can tap it for three. If we can get all five basic land types on board, suddenly Geoscope single-handedly taps to activate Horde of Notions.
Crib Swap may seem like a bad version of Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile, but we can tutor for it with Flamekin Harbinger and we can cast it from our graveyard with Horde of Notions. This gives us a reusable source of exiling creature removal that we can use to grind out a longer game.
Speaking of reusable removal, Bane of Progress will keep the field clear of Artifacts and Enchantments, and we can cast it over and over again. Total, our deck has 11 Artifacts and Enchantments, so Bane will almost always deal more damage to our opponents.
Our last category is draw spells. I've mentioned several times that I leaned towards card selections that will let us dump cards, and our draw spells will be the primary way we control our graveyard. Spells like Faithless Looting, Notion Rain, Windfall, Fact or Fiction, and Greater Good will let us filter through chunks of our deck and help us to set up Horde. While these cards offer pretty standard abilities, they will be the primary element that keeps our game plan moving.
The Cut List
Especially when dealing with a 5-color deck, there are near infinite options for potential additions with very few spaces to fill. For this reason, instead of focusing on specific cards that I've neglected, I want to focus on a couple packages.
The most glaring omission from this deck is a greater presence of reanimation spells. Reanimate, Animate Dead, Unburial Rites, and numerous other reanimation spells could be included in this deck as a backup plan to Horde of Notions. I've elected not to go in this direction to keep the primary focus of the deck on Elementals, but I acknowledge that a reanimator variant of this deck is likely very powerful.
Many Elementals care about lands in some way. Titania, Protector of Argoth, Liege of the Tangle, Multani, Yavimaya's Avatar, and Embodiment of Spring are all powerful Elementals that could lead this deck in a more land-centric direction. Given that I have two 'lands matter' decks already, I didn't take this direction, but the pieces are there to make lands a primary theme in Horde of Notions.
Lastly, the budget manabase could be adjusted in favor of Guildgates. Gates have received a lot more support with the recent Ravnica sets, and these are another direction to take the manabase to smooth fixing.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my article! Building this deck has taken me outside of my comfort zone, and forced me to work with strategies I don't normally employ. I'm particularly excited to try out this list, and see what changes are necessary to make it more efficient. Perhaps I have too many unique casting costs for my budget manabase to handle? Testing will tell.
Until next time, I wish you all the best and happy brewing!