Greetings friends, and welcome back to a surprise edition of Doc’s Laboratory! Over the past weekend, two of my teammates and I took an innovative Hooru deck to the top 64 of this season’s first ECQ. In preparation for the event, we tested a bunch of different variants of Hooru in Expedition and settled on a build featuring the often underestimated Horde Plunderer. There are a lot of different ways to approach this faction combo, ranging anywhere from super low-to-the-ground strategies with 8+ one drop units to midrange configurations featuring higher cost units like Aniyah. The common thread among these various shells is Daring Gryffin, a defining card in Expedition that dramatically effects play patterns and deck building choices within the format as a whole.

Through an examination of all the different ways to play Hooru, I want to answer two important questions. First, I want to retrospectively determine which Hooru configuration is best into a field consisting predominantly of Xenan Cultists, which is effectively how the ECQ meta shaped up. Although I would happily run back my ECQ list, I don’t doubt that there are improvements that could be made. Second, I want to explore Hooru’s role going forward in Expedition, taking into account some of the new cards entering the format this Tuesday. Hooru Pacifier particularly caught my attention, although it seems difficult to justify slotting it in the same deck as Daring Gryffin.

Let’s begin with the preliminary Hooru list I devised nearly three weeks ago, which serves as a starting point for many of the later Hooru lists. My primary objective here was to find a good home for Aniyah, Arctic Sheriff in Expedition, and once I realized that Savagery was legal alongside her I immediately knew what I wanted the shell to look like.

Hooru Savagery v1, by Doc28

There are a few notable interactions I want to mention here, with most of them involving either Gryffin, Savagery or both. A Gryffin with Savagery on it is really strong when it trades, and it only gets better when you put the exalted weapon on an Imperial Loyalist, grab a backup Gryffin and eat an additional enemy unit. Savagery is also great on its own in conjunction with most of the deck’s units, and it can get you extra value off of a Loyalist. The singleton Gustrider serves as a fifth target for Loyalist that you aren’t unhappy to naturally draw, and the Lightning Sprites help you churn through your deck and use your power efficiently.

The biggest issue with this list is the number of Gryffins, and I soon learned after playing a few games that not running four is simply a mistake. Gryffin leads to most of your broken play patterns and provides important wrath and combat trick insurance. In combination with Imperial Loyalist, Gryffin makes your opponent need to have three spells total in order to resolve just one, leading to some brutal catch-22s that allow you to consistently apply pressure.

After a bunch of reps from both Amalgam and I leading into the days before the ECQ, we eventually came to a more refined shell for the Hooru Aniyah/Savagery archetype.

Hooru Savagery v2, by Amalgam & Doc28

The biggest change to the maindeck was the addition of three Linebreaker’s Shields, which are surprisingly effective both in the early game and in the mid/late game. A Loyalist was quickly shaved for the fourth Gryffin, which makes a lot of sense given that you usually don’t love drawing multiple Loyalists past turn one (where pledging one and eventually playing the other is fine). The market got a significant makeover, with Gavel and Edict of Kodosh serving as more effective answers to the threats and play patterns presented by Xenan Cultists and numerous Stonescar variants.

All in all, these minor upgrades served to position the deck favorably against the format at large and resulted in a significantly improved win rate for both Amalgam and I during our testing. The caveat to this, however, was our Cultists matchup: I and some other team members found this version of Hooru to be relatively 50/50 or worse into Xenan, which we were obviously not content with. Although Hooru Savagery plays strong into a relatively open metagame, the increased prevalence of Cultists on ladder suggested that our focus needed to be more concentrated in that direction. This is what eventually lead us in the Horde Plunderer direction, with Popotito constructing the preliminary list

Hooru Plunderer v1, by Popotito

In terms of applying immediate pressure, this is about as aggressive as you can get. The Plunderer package here takes up eleven total card slots, including four Plunderers, four Shields and three Changeestiks. On top of that, the two Lay Sieges provide an additional layer of combat interaction that can be really difficult to play around. Gavel serves as a fetch-able hate piece against Cultists and other decks utilizing Vara as their late game trump card, while Mischief Yeti adds to the density of cheap aggressive units that wear buffs well.

When it comes to strictly beating up on Cultists, I think this is a really good spot for Hooru to be in. Given that Xenan lists are relatively light on unit interaction, Hooru decks like this can afford to maximize tempo advantage and establish one to two sizeable threats backed up by incidental protection. The problems with the deck specifically arise from two main concerns: for one, some of the numbers can definitely use tweaking; and two, the strategy falls flat against opponents with more removal (like the Stonescar Midrange deck that noverb and NotoriousGHP piloted). Ultimately, I cannot reasonably expect myself to beat non-Cultist decks while piloting this list, which made it difficult for me to simply pull the trigger on a strategy like this.

Fortunately, we did eventually figure out how to properly incorporate some of the positive attributes of Horde Plunderer within the context of powerful payoffs like Aniyah. By merging the Plunderer shell with the Pledge shell, we essentially split the difference between universal efficiency and concentrated synergy.

Hooru Plunderer/Pledge, by Amalgam, Doc28 & Popotito

This approach best accounts for the world where Cultists is the best deck while other decks trying to fight Cultists are also adequately viable and prevalent. Although that’s not how the top 64 itself shook out, I still think this was the correct methodology going into the event itself. The qualifying rounds of an ECQ are always filled with a wide range of strategies, meaning that a deck specifically built to attack the top dog must also have a plan for beating other random nonsense that might pop up on the path to day two. Hooru Plunderer/Pledge hits that sweet spot really well, with some busted draws that Xenan Cultists cannot realistically compete against and a solid baseline that makes the deck consistent enough to win in other matchups.

My match against Sunyveil in the top 64 was emblematic of an important positioning dynamic. Game one came down to a key decision in the early midgame, where I decided to suit up a Horde Plunderer with two weapons and attack without Berserk. Looking back, I think it would have been correct to Berserk there since I did not have any other means of pumping the Plunderer and my primary goal in that spot is to push as much damage as possible. Although this was probably my single biggest misplay of the tournament, I do not believe that it was the most critical factor part of the game itself. Some saw my choice to go all in on the Plunderer as a shortsighted play, and in response to that critique I would posit that the matchup incentivizes me to play aggressively, both in that spot and in the matchup as a whole. My goal there is to make the most powerful play I possibly can, and holding back gives Suny more time to develop his board and find answers. Essentially, I force him to have the answer immediately, because if he does not have it the game begins to snowball dramatically from there.

In terms of future directions for Hooru in Expedition, I think that Hooru Pacifier is a card worth building around. While it definitely forces you to cut Daring Gryffin, it makes your matchup against opposing Gryffin decks much better and punishes a lot of the more all-in builds running around. Furthermore, it comes with a powerful and resilient body that outsizes nearly all three-drops in the format apart from Gnash and dominates combat in the air. The tricky part is figuring out how best to build the surrounding shell, and to that end I have a preliminary framework to share with the world.

Hooru Midrange (post ECQ) v1, by Doc28

This list leans heavily into Justice, explaining why we see Blood Hunt over Savagery. Apart from being easier to cast in terms of influence, the Scout from Blood Hunt helps with consistency concerns and grabs more impactful cards in conjunction with Imperial Loyalist. The more I think about it, the more I realize Gustrider slot may be better utilized as a tutor target on two rather than on one, although I’m not sure what would be most effective there. Sodi adds a nice dimension to the market, acting as a threat and/or a piece of removal that could very well sneak itself into the maindeck at some point.

All in all, I think Hooru is a really strong faction combo with lots of design space to explore! For all I know, there might still be reason to bust out those Horder Plunderers or stir up some Mischief Yetis. In any case, despite the worrying performance of Xenan Cultists in ECQ: The Time of Ancestors, there are powerful ways to attack the Expedition metagame and succeed.

Until next time, Doc28

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