Conditions Allow – Horobi, Death’s Wail

(Horobi, Death’s Wail | Art by John Bolton)

Let Me Hear You Wail

Hello everyone, and welcome to Conditions Allow, where we take a look at legendary creatures with drawbacks and try to turn those drawbacks into strengths. This week, I’m talking about a Kamigawa legend that actually left me pretty stumped, not only because it has a rather interesting effect, but also because I wasn’t really sure if it was actually a drawback at first. This week, we’re building around Horobi, Death’s Wail.

Horobi, Death’s Wail is a four-mana legendary Spirit that will destroy any creature that becomes the target of a spell or ability. You may think that targeted effects aren’t that common in Commander, and therefore this effect won’t really do much. Before we talk about that, though, we need to figure out if Horobi even has a drawback at all.

Horobi’s triggered ability is symmetrical, so I wasn’t sure if it really qualified as a drawback, at first. In general, symmetrical effects aren’t downsides, because you’re building your deck to compensate for whatever your commander is doing, while your opponents aren’t. At first glance, I thought a Horobi deck would simply slap a couple Equipment on itself and watch every other creature die. But Horobi, Death’s Wail destroys creatures when they are targeted by abilities. This means that Giant Growth becomes a kill spell, but so does our own Lightning Greaves. Equip abilities target, just like Auras, making it almost impossible to really protect our commander.

This is only compounded by the plentiful creature and artifact effects in EDH that select targets. Several of the most popular commanders, such as Breya, Etherium Shaper, Brago, King Eternal, and Feather the Redeemed have ready access to targeted effects. Muldrotha the Gravetide decks might have to look a little harder, but they often include Auras such as Kaya’s Ghostform to take full benefit of Muldrotha’s graveyard recursion.

Horobi shuts off a huge range of decks. Equipment and Auras don’t work at all, and many creature combos are impossible as well. Combat tricks become cheap removal. Basically, the game warps dramatically around this one legendary creature. Of course, this means that most players will want it off the field as quickly as possible, and thanks to its own effect, this is actually pretty easy to do. In other words, while we know that we can harness Horobi’s ability to help destroy enemy creatures, the true drawback of this deck is the sheer self-induced fragility of the commander. Let’s see how we can build around that!

Target Locked

The core of the deck is comprised of effects that target creatures. We don’t have to worry about what these effects do – the mere act of pointing them at something is enough to kill that thing – so we actually have access to a lot of one- and two-mana spells that kill creatures. A simple card like Lose Hope is a kill spell (though you don’t get to scry if the spell’s target is destroyed before the spell can resolve). Subtle Strike‘s two modes are now a hyper-reduced Curtains’ Call. Sicken and Death Pulse fill similar roles, and can be tossed away to draw a card if Horobi isn’t yet in play. Death Pulse in particular still targets a creature when it’s cycled, which will draw you a card and kill a creature of your choice, a delightful exchange.

As great as those one-time spells are, it’s better to have one effect that we can activate multiple times. Some cards almost act as repeatable board wipes in conjunction with our commander. Retribution of the Ancients, for example, can be activated for a single black mana. Even removing zero +1/+1 counters from a creature will kill anything that isn’t indestructible.

Similarly, Tetzimoc, Primal Death can be activated for a single mana as many times as you’d like, though only during your turn. As a bonus, however, Tetzimoc does act as a board wipe if you need it, even without Horobi!

Finally, there’s Cauldron of Souls. This artifact does a lot of things in a lot of different decks, but here it’s simply an effect that can target any number of creatures, which means that we can selectively destroy exactly what we need to without touching anything else. The creatures we target won’t gain Persist, either, since Horobi will kill the creatures before the Cauldron’s ability can resolve.

Those are all great cards, but they have weaknesses, and can be destroyed fairly easily. For some extra redundancy, we’ve got a few lands that target creatures as well. Desert is the simplest of these, tapping to deal one damage to an attacking creature. That one damage is now lethal! Shizo, Death’s Storehouse can make any creature so scary that it terrifies itself to death, and Forge of Heroes can hit any commander on the turn it enters play.

Finally, Darksteel Garrison isn’t a land itself, but it can attach itself to any land and turn it into a potent removal effect at any point in the game.

I want to include a couple of creatures, as well, to make sure we have a variety of targeters in the deck. Cabal Trainee can come down before Horobi, and it can sacrifice itself at any time to take down the scariest creature in the neighborhood. Orc Sureshot fills a similar role; whether we control it or not, this Orc is sure to snipe a couple creatures every turn cycle.

Let Me Whisper in your Ear

Creatures are especially important to Horobi for one very sadistic and hilarious reason:

This is the real all-star of this deck: Horobi’s effect works no matter who controls it, and Endless Whispers ensures it will always be around to kill creatures and push the game over the edge. If our commander is fragile and easy for our opponents to kill, which they’ll absolutely want to do, then our goal is to make sure that what is dead may never rest. Even sacrificing that Cabal Trainee above will give it to another opponent, allowing them to control the next creature that will die, which will then transfer to a new owner, creating an enduring circle of Horobi-tastic chaos.

That is the true beauty of Endless Whispers with Horobi, Death’s Wail. The game doesn’t operate the way you expect anymore. Actually, while we’re here, let’s go over exactly how the game will work: Endless Whispers gives each creature a new ability that triggers when that creature dies. This means that you will always get to decide where your creatures will be revived, as will each of your opponents with their creatures. This opens up opportunities for political deals, reignites a grudge from last game, or simply helps out the player that hasn’t drawn a land since turn two.

Speaking of which, a great way to help that poor player out is with Harvester of Souls. Creatures will be dying left and right, and this demon is a great way to dig for that next land. Midnight Reaper and Grim Haruspex are also good options, especially because they encourage our other opponents to help the struggling player out, as well, by giving them creatures that will die, which then triggers more draw effects. This could divert their attention from hurting us, or from destroying Endless Whispers. I’m also including Rune-Scarred Demon to as a strong temptation to lure our opponents into deals, hopefully bullying them into doing what we want.

A slightly simpler creature to give away is Solemn Simulacrum. Sad Robot is a staple of EDH, and for good reason. It gives us our fruits and veggies (cards and mana), and Endless Whispers lets us give that bonus to our best friend at the table. Solemn isn’t our only way to give away mana, either: Crypt Ghast and Magus of the Coffers are both well known for their ability to create huge amounts of mana in black decks. With the help of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, we can make every deck into a black deck, allowing anyone to use our mana acceleration that relies on Swamps.

We also have some creatures that help move the game towards an end. One side effect of never having creatures stay dead is that the pace of resource loss is dramatically different. Decks that don’t have a ton of creatures aren’t massively affected, but creature decks will find that they have access to more resources. Games can get crazier, and also drag on a bit longer. Stalemates aren’t uncommon with Endless Whispers in play. To help get around this, I’m including Blood Artist, Zulaport Cutthroat, and Syr Konrad, the Grim. Konrad in particular is especially powerful, and threatens to deal huge amounts of damage during each turn cycle.

But if we really want to push the game to a close, we do have access to a sort of trump card: Revel in Riches. Revel in Riches isn’t a creature, so we don’t have to worry about anyone stealing it. Our deck is specially built to kill things, too, so it’s actually pretty easy to accrue the ten Treasures we need to win on the same turn that we cast the enchantment. Slightly slower routes to victory come from Soul of New Phyrexia and Eldrazi Monument. Both of these cards can give our creatures indestructible without triggering Horobi, Death’s Wail. This gives us a huge boost over our opponents, and ensures we can always attack without worrying about blockers. All three cards help us really take advantage of what Horobi has to offer in a straightforward way, and close out the game.

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The hardest part of playing this deck is timing things right. Play Horobi too early, and players will be unwilling to play out their best creatures until it’s taken care of. You also have to play Endless Whispers carefully, too. Once it’s gone, it’s nearly impossible to get back. It’s a unique effect, so while you can still win without it, that’s not what we’re really trying to do. There’s a little more flexibility with Horobi, especially with Phyrexian Reclamation and other reanimation effects. Just remember the goal is to have fun, spread chaos, and present everyone at the table with nearly impossible decisions as often as possible.

But what do you think? Is there anything I missed? Let me know what you think in the comments and, as always, thanks for reading!

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.