There has been a clear trend developing in the Standard metagame since Khans of Tarkir was released. This trend has occurred away from the spotlight and below the hype, but its impact is definitive and its results incontestable. Hordeling Outburst sits among the ranks of the Standard elite. It has crept its way to the top of the Standard heap as a key component of multiple tier-one archetypes, and it will define the Standard metagame moving forward.
There were 12 copies of Hordeling Outburst in the Top 8 of Grand Prix San Antonio, although it wasn't the most popular nonland card in the Top 8 - that distinction goes to the soulmates Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix, four of which were played in each of the four green decks for a total of 16 copies each. Lightning Strike sits just a spot behind, with 15 copies across four red decks, three of those splashed as removal in Temur Monsters. Hordeling Outburst very quietly came in third place of the popularity contest with 12 copies in the Top 8, tied with Goblin Rabblemaster, which was played in equal numbers alongside Hordeling Outburst in each instance.
If someone conducted a poll asking players for their Top 5 Standard cards, I'd bet the average player would include Goblin Rabblemaster, but they would not answer with Hordeling Outburst; tournament results clearly show that Hordeling Outburst should be considered one of the best cards in Standard.
Today I'll discuss where Hordeling Outburst came from, where it is now, and where it is headed.Hordeling Outburst Yesterday
The spiritual beginnings of Hordeling Outburst began with the deck played by Brad Nelson at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir, just two weeks after Khans of Tarkir was released. This is important because Brad has proven himself to be one of the most consistently competitively successful Standard players in the world and is widely looked at as the definitive mind for Standard. Brad plays Standard at all levels, from the ground up; he grinds literally week-to-week in the grueling SCG Open Series, he is a perennial Standard Grand Prix Top 8 finisher, and he's a stalwart of the Pro Tour with a Player of the Year title to his name.
Here's Brad's Pro Tour deck:
Brad played four Hordeling Outburst. A search of the remaining top finishing decks from the Pro Tour show only one other instance of the card, in Brad's PT teammate Denniz Rachid's identical deck. One would think that "one of the best cards in Standard" would have had a bigger impact at this tournament, but it was the obvious cards, the Siege Rhinos and Mantis Riders of the world, that had their day. Hordeling Outburst does not scream of raw power, and it is much trickier to wield. Brad's deck teaches many lessons about Hordeling Outburst that are still being applied in various decks today.
Allow me to explore just exactly what roles Hordeling Outburst played in Brad's deck, because these are the same roles it fills in the current crop of decks. The official coverage actually classified Brad's deck as "RW Tokens," with Goblin Rabblemaster being the only other token generator, but the Tempo moniker is more fitting.
Hordeling Outburst may not seem like an obvious tempo card, but I define tempo as the fight over board position in relation to scarce mana spent, and Hordeling Outburst is quite effective in this fight. Hordeling Outburst is a very powerful card because it creates so many pieces of cardboard, three for the price of one. Magic is a card game after all, and tokens bend the rules. These tokens create a virtual card advantage in a pure card economy sense, but even more importantly they create three pieces of board position that aren't easily dealt with.
In a typical early-game scenario for a tempo-oriented deck, players will attempt to set up plays that profitably trade mana with the opponent and establish a board advantage. For example, one line on the draw is playing Lightning Strike on the opponent's turn three to destroy their threat, then untapping and playing one's own threat. Jeskai may use a card like Mantis Rider for this role, but a cheap removal spell from the opponent can Erase the progress, or in the worst case set up a tempo-positive play benefiting the opponent. Now consider if the follow up is a Hordeling Outburst.
Talk about a rock solid tempo play! Hordeling Outburst is effectively immune to pinpoint removal from a tempo standpoint, as any attempt to deal with it will be far too slow and costly. Three mana spent on three tokens could cost upwards of nine mana to be dealt with by typical removal spells. Mana invested into Hordeling Outburst yields a return that's immune to conventional forms of tempo reaction, which makes it a solid foundation on which to build a deck.
The three tokens from Hordeling Outburst also hold up very well against targeted removal from an attrition sense. Trading three spells for one is a losing proposition. Fighting one-for-one with pinpoint removal simply doesn't work against Hordeling Outburst and is nearly always an act of desperation.
It's the fact that these sorts of one-for-one removal spells are so popular in the format that makes Hordeling Outburst so good. Hero's Downfall, Crackling Doom, and Lightning Strike all fall flat, and Abzan Charm is zoned out entirely.
While the resulting three 1/1 tokens created by Hordeling Outburst may not seem powerful, they hold up well under scrutiny. The tokens generated by Hordeling Outburst fill the board to create options. Whereas a 3/3 offers one card to play with, one option, Hordeling Outburst creates three. The tokens can be used on an individual basis, either offensively or defensively, or for whatever other purpose they suit. For example, they can go wide against an opposing defense to squeak in damage against planeswalkers, or they can be used to create a wide defense protecting one's own, like Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, which is an excellent tempo play in its own right but particularly vulnerable to the sort of opposing aggression that Hordeling Outburst is positioned to block.
The biggest weakness of tokens is that they are not particularly robust, particularly in combat, and they are very effectively blocked by every Standard playable creature. A comparable card, Spectral Procession, caught on immediately as a constructed powerhouse and staple, but that's because the evasion of flying allowed the tokens to ignore their biggest downfall. Hordeling Outburst has to work harder than that, but the decks it's a part of have all of the necessary tools to Remove blockers and clear the way for Goblin Tokens.
Stoke the Flames is capable of generating tempo as a removal spell because the convoke ability can reduce the cost all the way down to zero. The three tokens from Hordeling Outburst can reduce the cost of Stoke the Flames by three, which makes them a great pairing in any aggressive tempo deck.
A key inclusion in Brad's deck is Chained to the Rocks, perhaps the tempo generating removal spell of the Standard format. Paying one mana to Remove an opposing threat, which presumably costs at least one mana and likely a few more, is what tempo is all about.
Brad went on to include Chained to the Rocks in the next evolution of his Hordeling Outburst deck, the Mardu Midrange deck he played at GP: LA the following weekend:
This deck was revolutionary at the time, breaking pace from the Mardu Control deck that found middling success at the Pro Tour by adopting a tempo-focused, aggressive shell. This deck pushes the tempo and card advantage elements to the forefront by including cards that work well with none other than Hordeling Outburst.
This deck shows that the tokens from Hordeling Outburst create more options than just attacking and blocking. They can be sacrificed for a benefit to cards like Butcher of the Horde, but the synergies go deeper. The tokens can be pumped by anthem style effects, like Sorin, Solemn Visitor, which turns the token aspect into a huge benefit compared to how the anthem would interact with a traditional creature. Sorin, Solemn Visitor is a particularly strong tempo card in its own right because it can create a token and still leave behind a planeswalker that must be dealt with, and if the opponent isn't able to attack it but is forced to use spells they will likely be losing the tempo battle.
The tokens from Hordeling Outburst are also a particularly reliable way to trigger raid, which makes it an ideal card to pair with Wingmate Roc. The typical downside of Wingmate Roc is it's relatively expensive, and opponents can contain it by dealing with opposing creatures one-for-one and preventing the opponent from ever triggering raid; Hordeling Outburst sidesteps this problem by making it very costly if not impossible for the opponent to fight Wingmate Roc in this fashion. This deck is the first time Wingmate Roc was paired with Hordeling Outburst on the premier event stage, but it certainly wasn't the last.Hordeling Outburst Today
From there, Brad's deck left his hands and entered the competitive Standard community, which embraced it with open arms and brought the deck to the top tier of the metagame. It has been a contender ever since, and variations can be seen at the top tables of any Standard event.
Here's the deck that Ryan Scullin took to a first place finish at Grand Prix San Antonio:
This deck has all of the essential elements pioneered by Brad, and it's clear this deck is a Standard powerhouse here to stay.
With Hordeling Outburst proven in Standard, what other decks can utilize it?
One candidate for Hordeling Outburst is Jeskai Tempo. Jeskai has lots of ways to push through Hordeling Outburst tokens, and it has Stoke the Flames to gain synergy. Jeskai is the quintessential Goblin Rabblemaster deck of the format, so it makes perfect sense it would want to adopt Hordeling Outburst. Hordeling Outburst was likely kept from the deck originally because it lacked a lot of synergy, and it didn't necessarily fit the aggressive, burn-centric strategy, but Jeskai has evolved greatly since the Pro Tour.
Kevin Jones, who won the first SCG Open of this season with Jeskai, reached the Top 8 of the SCG Open two weekends ago playing his updated Jeskai deck with Hordeling Outburst and Wingmate Roc. Larry Li took notice, and he played his own build to the Top 8 of GP San Antonio:
This deck comes with a Hordeling Outburst synergy unique to Jeskai; the three tokens are particularly useful with the third mode of Jeskai Charm, which functions as a one-shot anthem effect and potentially a large dose of lifegain.
This is also a great time to note the synergy between Hordeling Outburst and prowess creatures. Hordeling Outburst functions as a creature but is a noncreature spell, so it triggers Prowess and is a particularly excellent turn three followup to a turn two Seeker of the Way. This combination can be seen in this Jeskai deck, in the Mardu Midrange deck, and all the way back to Brad's Pro Tour deck.
Another player in San Antonio took advantage of Hordeling Outburst in a unique way:
This is an aggressive red deck that combines creatures and burn, a classic red deck wins strategy. It's primarily designed to rush the opponent with cheap creatures, clear out blockers with removal, and finish the opponent off with burn or a swarm threats. It does have tempo elements, and in a sense it's a tempo deck because the many cheap spells allow it to outpace the opponent. This deck turns to Hordeling Outburst as a robust threat that fights the tempo battle, helps to swarm the opponent, and fills the three-drop slot to supplement Goblin Rabblemaster.
This deck has some synergies with Hordeling Outburst, most importantly a set of Stoke the Flames with convoke, and Hordeling Outburst does trigger prowess for Monastery Swiftspear. Hordeling Outburst also provides minimal synergy with Treasure Cruise, because as a spell it hits the graveyard as delve fodder while the tokens do work in play, compared to a conventional creature card that can only fuel delve after it is destroyed.
Hordeling Outburst is quite important to the transformational sideboard plan of this deck, which is to shift into a controlling deck with planeswalkers and gods. Hordeling Outburst serves as an excellent defensive card to establish board position and fight against opposing threats.Hordeling Outburst Tomorrow
Before wrapping up it's important to explore why Goblin Rabblemaster is played alongside Hordeling Outburst in each deck shared today. There's good reason, and it's not just because the two cards offer some limited Goblin tribal synergy. Goblin Rabblemaster is not as reliable as Hordeling Outburst as a tempo positive play in itself, but the tokens it leaves behind have a lingering impact on the board. Against a tapped-out opponent, Goblin Rabblemaster will create a token and thus board presence that will remain even after Goblin Rabblemaster is destroyed. Consider that Goblin Rabblemaster is in many ways the ultimate payoff to playing a tempo strategy in the first place; it has the ability to snowball a game out of control and win as the only threat necessary if the opposing board is properly maintained.
At this point Hordeling Outburst has established itself as a top Standard card. It's a mainstay in the Mardu deck, which I expect to be a Standard metagame player until the next rotation. Hordeling Outburst is still relatively new to Jeskai, but remember that Jeskai very much fell from popularity after the Pro Tour and has been widely regarded as a poor metagame choice. The recent innovations have reinvigorated the archetype and repositioned it for the new metagame at hand.
I expect the metagame to Backlash against Hordeling Outburst and begin to better manage it. Bile Blight comes to mind as the premier solution, because it's the one pinpoint creature removal spell that's capable of removing all three tokens at once, or technically even more. It's certainly a big deterrent to an opponent thinking about playing a second copy of Hordeling Outburst. Even more impressive is that, as a two-mana spell, Bile Blight is tempo-positive against Hordeling Outburst. Sweepers like Anger of the Gods should also see more play, as should Drown in Sorrow.
In a world of mythic planeswalkers and overpowered rare gold cards it's easy to miss Hordeling Outburst, an uncommon from a large set, but it's exactly these kinds of efficient, unassuming cards that outlive their bit in Standard and become part of the greater Magic lore, the cards of cubes and Commander, and perhaps even Modern. I'll be paying close attention to Hordeling Outburst's future in Standard, where it should remain as a key factor in the metagame until it rotates out next year.
What's your favorite Hordeling Outburst deck? Do you have a build that's under the radar? Are there certain cards people should be using to fight it? Will the metagame shift to better handle the card? Share your thoughts in the comments section! I'll also try to answer any questions.
-AdamFollow me @ www.twitter.com/adamyurchick