Hello (again!) – I’m Erik. I’m returning to the good ship GDC after an almost one-year tenure with Star City Games. Some Virginia laws changed, and SCG had to adjust and refocus their content to adapt to those changes; The bad news is that my column was discontinued there; the good news I’m back with GDC and still bringing the same Commander content right here.
Archetype Analysis: Group Hug
Introductions aside, welcome to Archetype Analysis. I’m going to break down the good – and bad – of an archetype, and then give you a quick general lesson. Easy peasy!
Today, we’re talking about Group Hug. Group hug decks are often (very often) hated on by other players. The decks are seen as pointless, incapable of winning, and often simply promote chaos with no inherent game plan.
And if that is true, then you are playing against poorly built group hug decks.
This archetype has goals as strong as any other archetype. They just may be more experience-focused and less win-focused.
Benefits of Group Hug Decks
Group hug decks make games happen. Most often, they force players into action. Rather than presenting a threat and demanding that the table find an answer, group hug decks propel someone else into action and then enable the rest of the table to combat the leader if things get out of hand. Games are rarely fun if someone runs roughshod over the others.
The biggest reason to play group hug is the extra resources provided to the table. Cards like Howling Mine, Mana Flare et al. provide a wonderful stream of cards and mana; this helps make sure that when things are out of control, someone at the table has an answer. The extra cards are the first steps to extra resources, but certainly not the last. Group hug decks can provide extra mana, extra lands, and often extra permanents. Usually, the permanents are creatures, but even a lowly Forbidden Orchard token can hold a Loxodon Warhammer and take the fight to the enemy.
Group hug decks also enable the entire table to better-enact their game plan – this does not mean they enable everyone to win. Rather, it means that that when group hug does its job well, everyone has a shot at the title. There should not be a rich, fat noble and a bunch of starving serfs in EDH games with group hug. Everyone should be fighting fit.
Another benefit is the ease of play on the pilot. Group hug decks are like sorbet or pickled ginger – a palate cleanser between decks. Playing a hardcore or insane-tier deck requires a lot of cognitive effort from the pilot; group hug decks also worry far less about sequencing plays correctly. As the pilot, you are far less concerned with a small slip-up costing you. Switching gears to a more relaxed archetype allows a player to unwind without needing to walk away for coffee between pods.
More Magic is always better.
Group hug decks are typically heralded by small group of commanders. Phelddagrif is the poster hippo for these decks; Phelddy may not be as overtly powerful as some other options, but she provides much more control in how you want to assist players. Plus, she is capable of taking someone down with general damage. It may take some help (Hello, Shield of the Oversoul) but it is entirely possible.
Kynaois and Tiro of Meletis is the newest group hug commander(s). They provide extra cards or extra land drops. The effect gives their controller the best shot of playing a land; they draw first, and then everyone else draws after a land drop chance.
Other commanders can run group hug decks. However, when someone says Mogis, God of Slaughter is a group hug commander, they are wrong. (Group Slug, perhaps?)
The biggest challenge is not setting up a situation that catapults one opponent into a win – also known as ‘kingmaking.’ Mana doublers like Heartbeat of Spring are the most common causes of this. The next player after the hug player reaps the benefit, casts everything, and then blows up the doubler so no one else gets value.
Don’t blindly play a mana doubler.
Another challenge is getting into a stalemate because everyone has too many resources. No player can make a strong move, so the game crawls to a halt. Simply put, if every player taps their lands for three mana and draws four cards a turn, most people have several answers available each turn. The easiest solution is to hold back on giving people everything.
The last major challenge is the ‘Second Place deck’ syndrome. Group hug decks are notorious for riding one player’s coattails to the end of the game…and then they then roll over and die. The deck should be a catalyst for a great game, not its own fiery death.
Importance of a Win Condition
Having a win condition is the most critical element of a group hug deck. You may think it is the hug cards…but it’s not. Every EDH deck should build towards something during the game; Group Hug is no different. The original Zedruu precon struggled tremendously here. The deck had some of the most expensive singles, but nothing to actually do during precon games. Fortunately, the new Commander 2016 precon with Kynaois and Tiro of Meletis included Treacherous Terrain and Keening Stone. These are brilliant inclusions. works as a surprise and preys on all the extra lands that people have been dropping. It even makes [card]Collective Voyage useful in a 1-2 punch set up. Keening Stone turns into a fast kill after people discard down to hand size.
Other win conditions could be something like Divine Intervention. Take the group hug concept all the way to ending the game in a draw. You won’t win those games, but you’ll take a moral victory which is just as good. Even something like Storm Herd or sneaking in a Splinter Twin combo can work. I did the latter in my old Zedruu the Greathearted deck (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t fun.) But Storm Herd takes advantage of the life buffer most group hug decks are provided. Fewer players attack the person giving out resources, but that sudden pegasus army is scary.
My current group hug deck has a Maro subtheme. This helps me have something to do with extra cards in my hand – I attack! Phleddagrif can take down people with a little help and the Maro tribe cleans up the rest. As long as you have a plan, the group hug games will be far more enjoyable for you.
Transform and Roll Out
I told you it was easy-peasy. I have one final lesson – be aware of the resources you give to the table. When someone draws a card, plays an extra land, and then immediately pops your Rites of Flourishing, you are now behind in card advantage. Group hug decks often rely on the table assessing that the non-group hug decks are the biggest threats. However, if you are doling out five cards and two extra land drops to every player, then you are the threat. Keep your help to a reasonable amount and play your own threats to stay active in the game.
What group hug style decks have you built? What lessons have you learned from them? Hit up the ‘Comments’ below.