First, a note from Robert:
I’m @ArtosKincaid on Twitter. If you like my articles or just want to ask me a question, feel free to contact me there too! I tweet about Magic almost exclusively, and love a good debate or just sharing ideas. Any format is fair game for discussion.
Today I’m going to talk about one of my more recently built Commander decks, and one I’ve mentioned previously: my “Group Hug” Phelddagrif deck. If you classify yourself as a Social Gamer Timmy or you enjoy playing the support character in MMOs, you’ll probably love playing this archetype at least on occasion.
For those of the more competitive persuasion who want to shoot for the win with a bit of a challenge and an offbeat deck, I’ve included a section below on how to convert my list into a much-more-likely-to-win-the-game version. I’ll also be doing similar deck techs for some of my other, more competitive Commanders soon so keep checking if Bant isn’t your color combination of choice (or if the idea of playing Group Hug makes your skin crawl).
I find Group Hug to be an excellent deck to play when introducing multiple new players to the format, as you stand very little chance of winning and it gets you to the fun part of Commander that much faster. If you often find yourself playing new player liaison, I highly recommend adding Group Hug to your box of decks so you can play ‘Format Ambassador’ like a champ.
Notable Moments Playing Group Hug
- Timmy Moment: Casting New Frontiers with X=10 on turn 6.
- Johnny Moment: Giving one opponent 20+ Hippo tokens and casting Congregate, targeting him, to keep him alive through a 30+ attacking creature swarm.
- Spike Moment: Targeting myself with a Loaming Shaman trigger to shuffle my graveyard back in, activating Jace Beleren’s ultimate to mill my last opponent for 20, and casting Prosperity with X=12 to force him to draw exactly the number of his cards left in his library so he would lose on his draw step.
For those who are unfamiliar with the idea of Group Hug, the idea is to be able to supply your “opponents” (and I use the term loosely when playing this deck) with additional cards, mana, and life to get to the silly board states that we all love so much in Commander. Phelddagrif is a natural choice for this because he can gift an opponent of your choice with life, cards, or Hippo tokens. I don’t often activate or even cast the Giant Purple Hippo, but he’s a nice way to try and level the playing field if someone gets off to too much of a head start and looks to make the game miserable for everyone. Other possible choices in Bant colors are Ragnar for the clutch regeneration and really old school feel, or Angus Mackenzie for a Fog machine.
For the most part, red and black don’t provide a lot of good Group Hug style cards. In fact, they have a lot of anti-Group Hug cards. I’ve debated making an anti-Group Hug deck several times with Kaervek the Merciless as the commander and playing with a pile of cards like Underworld Dreams, Spiteful Visions, and Grave Pact, (calling it Group Thug) but I haven’t gotten there just yet.
Focus #1: Card Draw
Everyone loves drawing extra cards, right? The primary reason to play blue in a Group Hug deck is to get access to all the universal blue card draw spells. Howling Mine effects are great, and you have access to several artifacts just like it, such as the Temple Bell and Font of Mythos. But, as we all know, blue is where it’s at for card draw regardless of whether you just want to draw cards yourself or make everyone draw.
There are a number of single shot effects like Vision Skeins and Words of Wisdom that can get you a quick shot of a card or two, but this is Commander. “Draw seven cards” effects are almost always solid, so the budget ones deserve a slot. If you’ve got a Timetwister taking up space, you can even run that! The X draw spells like Prosperity and Skyscribing, also make the cut because you can easily refill everyone’s hands in a single shot or in some cases actually win by having more cards in your library than your opponents.
Focus #2: Cheating Things Onto the Battlefield/Accelerating
With all those extra cards, people are going to need ways to play them faster. There’s two different methods to make it simpler, both of which are strongly identified with green: you can either give them ways to put creatures into play for free, or you can give them extra mana. Either way, green is the important component here. Both blue and artifacts have ways to pump things out, but nothing beats the green ways to do it
The first is what I refer to as the ‘Wumpus’ effect. (Say it with me, “The Wumpus Effect,” and feel the power.) You get a guy on the cheap via something like Hunted Wumpus, and each of your opponents also gets a free one too. The nice thing about these is it gives you enters the battlefield triggers, but not cast triggers, so the guy playing a big pile of Eldrazi doesn’t get his free Vindicate or to draw 4 extra cards if he or she decides to be That Guy.
The different Oaths from Exodus (Druids, Lieges, and Scholars) are also great ways to give people free stuff when they’re behind and always makes for hilarious board states. Oath of Druids has created some real shenanigans and very tense moments where people revealed cards off the top hoping for the right flip.
This section is the easiest one to go really big on if you have money to splurge with because Legacy has made Show and Tell a pricey card, and you can go old school and break out that Eureka! you always wanted to play, but neither are strictly necessary. I don’t have either right now and I don’t feel like the deck is hurting for them.
The other, and perhaps more conventional, way to accelerate the board is to give everyone extra mana. There are a lot of different ways to do this, almost of which are green.
- Give everyone additional mana every turn with cards like Eladamri’s Vineyard
- Get extra lands onto the battlefield with cards like New Frontiers or Rites of Flourishing
- Making lands tap for additional mana via Heartbeat of Spring and friends
A big part of the reason I went with a lot of free spell effects was because the number of ways available to accelerate everyone is sadly lacking. Most of the good ones these days are relegated to things that only work for you; Mana Reflection is an excellent example. While those are great for normal decks, it makes the Purple Hippo sad and we have to resort to more drastic measures.
Focus #3: Keeping Yourself From Dying
Despite the fact that you’re giving everyone cards and mana, inevitably you’ll have a party pooper. Even if you’re playing the straight up Group Hug version with no aspirations of actually winning the game, someone will often decide you’re cramping their style and try and get the beats in at the worst time. What’s a poor Purple Hippo to do? My defense of choice has been playing numerous creatures with defender, a handful of life gain effects, and a few “fair” sweepers.
The nice thing about defenders as opposed to actual removal is defenders can block every turn, and only very rarely will cause people who aren’t attacking you to get angry, unlike a board sweeper. Yes, they will die to other people’s sweepers, but 99% of the time it won’t matter because so many of them are just there to block once or twice after giving you the real value when they hit the battlefield. I started my defender suite by hitting the bases we’ve already mentioned (mana boosts and free cards), though they only benefit you.
I run pretty much every cantripping defender and most of the ones that provide mana. You can round those out with some solid blockers like Fog Bank and Wall of Reverence to make it hard to actually punch damage through. My list has cut a lot of the bigger toughness defenders I was running because my group has learned I really have no way to realistically win and just enjoy all the free cards and mana, but Wall of Denial and similar blockers can be quite handy to have around. I also run a few silver bullet cards, like Ith, High Arcanist and Empyrial Archangel, to try to prevent some of the possible shenanigans that come up occasionally.
A bit of life gain is often handy as well. Spells like Congregate and Beacon of Immortality are huge chunks of life almost all of the time, so you can get out of hole if someone decided to come out of the gate blazing. It’s also a great deterrent for people who might decide you need to be targeted. What sounds like a better idea to you: attacking the guy with 100 life and nothing but defenders, or the guy with 28 life and a bunch of threats who you know is actually trying to win?
Yeah, I thought so.
I purposefully run next to no sweepers, and the ones I do run are aimed to be a complete reset for when things just get too stupid too fast. The nice thing about Group Hug is it’s very easy to get the game back to a “fun” state quickly even after a Worldpurge or Balancing Act. Just be careful of playing Restore Balance if you have someone playing an artifact heavy deck, as it can put them way out in front.
Bonus: Going for the Win
As I mentioned in my “Spike Moment” above, I’ve actually won a game playing the actual deck list I have below using Loaming Shaman. The best way to turn this deck into a potential game winning version would to turn it into a pseudo mill deck by doing the following:
- Change the general to Angus Mackenzie. You need free ways to make sure you don’t take damage, not ways to give your opponent stuff.
- Add more defensive walls instead of just cantripping and mana producers. Wall of Shards can be amazing since you don’t care about your opponent’s life totals, and it’ll give you positive karma. Wall of Frost makes attacking you very unappealing as well.[/card]
- Run a few more sweepers at expense of some of the universal mana acceleration. Your opponents will be playing out their hands as fast as possible, and since you’re actually a target you’ll want to be able to control the board better. Normal creature sweepers like Wrath of God and Day of Judgment are the way to go; you don’t want to kill your Howling Mines if you can help it.
- Add more ways to recycle your graveyard. A “Legendary Creature – Eldrazi” would probably be excessive, but it would give the deck an alternate win condition and you’ll have plenty of ways to discard it just by having more than 7 cards in your hand. Primal Command gets you another useful effect and lets you shuffle your bin in at the same time. Elixir of Immortality and Feldon’s Cane effects may seem janky, but they’ll save you when you need it. Graveyard hate effects also become more important so you can use your Timetwister variants more aggressively.
- Consider playing some defensive enchantments, like Propaganda, Ghostly Prison, and Imperial Mask, to make it extremely unappealing to attack you. A lot of players will go for the attack of opportunity over you. Imperial Mask gives you an important level of protection from spells that could otherwise wreck your day.
And finally, the deck list in all it’s glorious Purple Hippo awesomeness. All of my decks have a movie title name, some of which are ironic, and others just fit well. This one was too funny not to use.
Phelddagrif - "Goodfellas"
Got a suggestion for a card I missed? Let me know in the comments!
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