Make Hugs, Not WarThursday, April 20th 2017 Justin Leger

As a proud “filthy casual”, when considering what decks to build I tend to consider a deck’s potential fun factor above all else. Winning may be nice, but playing interesting cards with unusual synergies turns out to be way more exciting for me. And what deck is more unusual than one that focuses on helping out your opponents?! It really turns the object of the game on its head. You’ll be playing the innocent support role while turning your opponents against each other.

The deck in question is known by many as “Group Hug” and has a few different archetypes. Previously, Group Hug decks would commonly use Zedruu the Greathearted who generously gives away permanents to his opponents. A more vicious archetype uses Nekusar, the Mindrazer who helps opponents draw more cards but makes them pay in blood. For my first build I used the lovable weirdo, Phelddagrif. In order to buff up your winged hippo pal, you must either give your opponents creature tokens, heal them, or help them draw cards. What a friendly guy!

Zedruu the GreatheartedNekusar, the MindrazerPhelddagrif

With the release of Commander 2016, my “filthy casual” Group Hug fantasy was legitimized by Wizards of the Coast. Stalwart Unity, the WUBR premade deck, is a fully realized Group Hug EDH deck with reprints of cards I wanted in my Phelddagrif deck but couldn’t afford. On top of adding red to my pool of options, I got to play with Magic’s first card (explicitly) featuring a gay couple! Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, who were alluded to in the flavor text for Guardians of Meletis. On top of being a massive blocker with 8 toughness, these lovebirds help everyone either draw cards or play extra lands while keeping you ahead of the curve. I decided to play this commander for the second draft of my Group Hug deck, mashing together the premade deck with my homemade one to create this loving monstrosity.

Say your Vows

As you may be able to tell, this deck doesn’t really have the power to grant you an easy win. It’s pretty hard to deal enough commander damage with a 2/8 to take anyone out and there aren’t many strong damage-dealing cards either. I consider the win condition to be coming second place. If you’re really lucky, after your opponents take each other out, the last person you’re up against will be weak enough for you to deal the final blow. To even get to this point though, you have to pit them against each other. Play the political game. Try to balance the field out so that you don’t end up one-on-one against the strongest deck. One way to push this is using the Vows. These cards are excellent for helping your opponents beat the crap out of each other while protecting yourself. See a big, scary creature on the field? Load it up with a Vow to make it everyone else’s problem but yours. We get four of those in the deck, so along with the card draw coming from Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, you’ve got a pretty good chance of drawing at least one of these a game.

Vow of DutyVow of FlightVow of LightningVow of Wildness

Please don't hit me!

It’s unlikely you’ll be a threat on the table, since you’re just being helpful; but if one opponent feels they’re not getting the benefit of your hugs as much as the rest of the group, they’re likely to target you to stop the gravy train. You’ll want to really deter your opponents from coming after you by playing cards like Norn's Annex, Propaganda, and Windborn Muse. It’s going to be hard for your opponents to justify attacking you when they have to slow down their own deck by tapping out their own resources. It’ll be even more of a deterrent for them if they know dealing damage to you with a creature means it gets bounced from play with Dissipation Field. There are multiple cards that have this affect, so you’re likely to draw at least one in a game. If you can get out multiple, you’ll be too difficult to attack for opponents to even bother. Don’t forget that your opponents will still try to remove your permanents if they’re too helpful to the rest of the crew. Add an extra layer to your pillow fort with Privileged Position and Sterling Grove to keep your permanents safe from nasty removal tricks.

Windborn MusePropagandaNorn's Annex

You may want to give your own creatures a bit more fighting power, since most follow suit with Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis in terms of having big butts and small fists. Since you don’t have black in the deck to use Doran, the Siege Tower, you’ll have to settle with Assault Formation. If you keep your commander in play, you’ll at the very least have an 8 toughness creature out to take advantage of its effect. This will allow you the freedom to attack into your opponents, while giving them less incentive to attack into you, given they’ll likely be doing so at a loss. As an added bonus, making your commander attack at an 8 means you can deal enough commander damage to take an opponent out with 3 direct hits.

You get cards. You get cards. Everybody gets cards!

This deck doesn’t rely on fighting, though. You’ve gotta keep the hugs coming! What better way to make your opponents love you than to help them draw a full seven cards for each spell they play?! Forced Fruition opens the door for you to mill out your opponents, a strategy that’s not yet worked out for me in Commander but… I’m optimistic. They’ll already be drawing tons of cards off of Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis anyway, as well as from cards such as Walking Archive, Temple Bell, and Selvala, Explorer Returned. When going heavy into this strategy it’s wise to use cards like Wheel of Sun and Moon to keep recycling your deck. Otherwise you may get milled out before your opponents. Lastly, make sure you’ve got both Thought Vessel, Venser's Journal, and Reliquary Tower in here to make sure you can hold on to all those cards you’re drawing!

Milling out your opponents is very hard to do against multiple 100 card decks, so don’t rely too heavily on this tactic. There are other ways to use this extreme card draw to your advantage. For example, Realm Seekers can become so big in a multiplayer game that you can fell an opponent in one swoop if they aren’t milling out quick enough. Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind will allow you some more removal if an opponent is using oppressive creatures, while Psychosis Crawler and Fevered Visions can help you whittle all of your opponents’ life totals down at the same time. Horizon Chimera will gain you so much life amidst your own card draws that attacking you will be too daunting a task for anyone to bother.

Forced FruitionFevered VisionsRealm SeekersThought Vessel

Now, I’m really not a fan of tutors in EDH, as the spirit of the format lends more to inconsistency. Decks comprised of 100 different cards should play out quite differently each game; however, if you want to actually win with this deck you’re best off adding all the tutor effects you can to find what you need when you need it. Black has some of the best tutor effects available, but you can still use Enlightened Tutor, Mystical Tutor, and Worldly Tutor in this deck. Grab those if you can’t handle the natural chaos that is EDH.

That’s the jist of it. Remember: this deck list is not so much built to win, but rather to keep your opponents targeting each other so you can sit back and watch. All the while you can sit on the sidelines preaching about peace and love. Winning is a happy accident for the deck, so if you manage a victory, pat yourself on the back. From heavy card draw to retreating into your shell, this deck is a bit of a hodgepodge; but don’t lose sight of the big picture: GROUP HUGS!!!

by Justin LegerHailing from Nova Scotia, Justin moved to Toronto to get a Master's degree in Cinema and Media Studies. A self-labelled "filthy casual", Justin has been playing Magic since the Invasion block. Though he's never been interested in competitive play, he finds great joy in an intense round of EDH or any limited draft. In terms of cards he wants to play, he'll always prioritize an interesting, game-changing card over one that's technically "good". After all, it's just a game!