Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis | Illustration by Willian Murai
If you’ve never played with or against a group hug deck, then you’re missing out on one of the best experiences Commander has to offer. A group hug deck is designed to help out every player at the table in some way and is often not even built with the idea of winning in mind. Instead, these decks are focused on fun, helping out other players, and sometimes on wacky hijinks.
While there are some players who build what are known as “group slug” decks (which pretend to be group hug then win out of nowhere), I’m going to be talking more about pure group hug gameplay. I’m looking at commanders that have abilities and color identities that make it easier for you to make things easier for everyone else.
One thing to keep in mind when discussing a group hug deck is how you need to reframe cards in your mind. For example, a counterspell is usually seen as a mean card. However, if you run counterspells specifically to stop infinite combos or someone taking a bunch of extra turns, most people at the table are going to be pleased with you. That means some of these commanders, while they could otherwise be pretty nasty, still make for good group hug commanders when played correctly.
Kruphix, God of Horizons | Illustration by Daarken
Group hug commanders are legendary creatures (or planeswalker commanders) that enable you to make the game better for everyone at the table. Sometimes this means they have specific abilities that can give other players a benefit. Other times, this could be a very powerful commander that enables you to build a more altruistic deck around it.
It’s unfortunate that Princess Twilight Sparkle isn’t a legal card in Commander, especially with the upcoming release of more My Little Pony cards. That being said, if your playgroup is willing, it’s one of the absolute best group hug commanders thanks to their unique ability. This is the only Magic card that lets every player win the game. Not tie, not have everyone lose at once, but everyone wins. If that’s not a group hug, then I don’t know what is.
I have been at a lot of Commander tables where three out of four players are praying for someone to get a board wipe. Well, Child of Alara gives you one in your command zone that you can pull out and sacrifice whenever needed to help clear the board. Because it’s in all five colors, you can also include any other group hug staples, including all of these other commanders if you’d like.
Good old Angus Mackenzie has always been good at keeping you safe from big attacks. As a group hug commander, it can do the same for all your opponents as well. You’ll want ways to untap Angus during other players’ turns like Seedborn Muse, that way you can help everyone. If your goal really is for everyone to have fun, look out that you don’t just make the game go on forever. Maybe just let things escalate until people can pull off crazy big plays that are fun and not usually seen in normal games of Magic. Alternatively, if you want to win, you can stall indefinitely and claim victory with a Laboratory Maniac or something.
Simic () has some strong group hug cards, and Kruphix, God of Horizons can make them even better. This god will give you more mana to pump into things like Collective Voyage or Prosperity, and allow you to keep more cards in your hand, ensuring you have good options for helping out other players. Kruphix is ultimately still much more beneficial to you than other players, though.
Esika, God of the Tree is the perfect example of a powerful commander that also works well in group hug. You can simply take all the group hug commanders listed here, plus any other helpful legendary cards, and The Prismatic Bridge will keep spitting them out. Similar to Child of Alara, this commander also lets you run any group hug card in the game such as Mana Flare or Noble Benefactor.
Shizuko, Caller of Autumn gives each player extra mana to use each turn. While this will admittedly favor players using green a bit, it’s still always helpful to have some extra mana floating around. Green also has plenty of other cards to help players get extra mana like Magus of the Vineyard, Heartbeat of Spring, or Eladamri's Vineyard. This deck’s great if you’re teaching friends how to play Magic. That way you can gas up their decks, let them see what it’s like to pull off explosive plays later in the game, and they’ll likely have a lot more fun than if they are totally mana screwed in their first game.
Selvala, Explorer Returned’s ability is a good way to draw everybody cards. That being said, they’re a little further down the list because I’m torn about making players reveal cards. Yes, it can be helpful for everyone to know what cards are out there, but it’s also equally detrimental to give away upcoming plays that other players might have. Sometimes it’s hard to help all players without also hurting them in some way.
Edric, Spymaster of Trest’s ability is great for group hug as it gives all players an easy way to draw cards. It even keeps the heat off of you and incentivizes your opponents to attack each other. This will usually be safer with players who don’t have a lot of built-in card draw and will be relying on keeping you around.
Xyris, the Writhing Storm is a slightly more dangerous version of Edric, but the addition of red makes up for it. You get some great group hug cards like Humble Defector and Zhur-Taa Ancient. Magus of the Wheel can also be used in a way that helps you and other players. Plus, you can always throw Edric in the 99 of this deck and keep a similar theme.
#12. Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice
Atraxa, Praetors' Voice is the kind of commander that your opponents will see and immediately be worried about, so it might be worth just saying that you’re playing group hug. Proliferate can be helpful for all the same reasons it can be dangerous. You can give your opponents’ planeswalkers more loyalty, increase the number of +1/+1 counters on their creatures, or even just give them additional resource counters like oil counters.
Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist is one of the more unique group hug commanders. Its ability to distribute token creatures can be a lot of fun, and any players running sacrifice strategies will be very happy to keep them on board. Because you can’t be hurt by the salamanders you give away, you can ensure you stay in the game a little longer to help out while everyone else beats each other up with the creatures you’re giving them.
Kami of the Crescent Moon is just no strings attached extra resources for your opponents. This commander is also very easy to get onto the battlefield, meaning everyone will be drawing extra cards early and often. As long as you don’t build in punishments for drawing cards, players will likely leave Kami be since it isn’t hurting anyone.
If there’s anything that seems antithetical to the idea of group hug decks, it’s stealing other players’ permanents. Zedruu the Greathearted recognizes that and instead gives things away. There’s a mean route to take by donating detrimental permanents, or you could just distribute mana rocks or draw engines to the players you think need them most.
Karona, False God is a pretty wild group hug deck, because you basically just pass your commander around and give everyone an extra strong attacker. If any of your opponents are running a deck built around a single creature type, the buff it provides will also be very helpful to them.
Braids, Conjurer Adept makes for some very fun Magic games. Allowing everyone at the table to start throwing down big threats early can be a wild time, and is very different from your typical games. Unless someone is running a spellslinger deck, most people at the table will have a lot of fun with this commander.
A lot of the group hug commanders I’ve touched on allow your opponents to draw cards. What I like about Kwain, Itinerant Meddler is that the card draw is optional. This way, if a player has a specific reason for not wanting to draw another card, or gain life, they don’t have to. This is a minor occurrence, but I think it gives Kwain the edge over something like Selvala, Explorer Returned.
Phelddagrif is the card that taught me what a group hug deck actually was, so I may have some nostalgia making me biased here. However, it’s hard to beat a card with three different abilities that all help your opponents in one way or another. If you’re intentionally ignoring the benefits you get, this becomes an easy commander to make a group hug deck around.
Círdan the Shipwright is a little bit Kwain and a little bit Braids, making it a great mixture for a group hug build. This also lets the whole table in on decisions, as opposed to you imposing your group hugginess onto the other players.
Gluntch, the Bestower lets you help out three players each turn. If you’re going for a true group hug, this means spreading the love around the table. You can also help yourself out a bit if one player becomes an archenemy and is threatening to make the game less fun for everyone involved.
All of Kenrith, the Returned King’s activated abilities can be used to help the other players as much as they help you. They’re all instant-speed as well, giving you a lot of flexibility as to how to help out. A player needs just a small buff on their turn? You got them. They’re one card away from a cool move? No problem, Kenrith can help with that.
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is one of, if not the best group hug commanders for several reasons. First, its ability happens every turn at no cost, so you never have to worry that it won’t go off. Second, it gives players a choice between ramp and card draw, meaning there’s some choice involved in how this helps. Finally, it has all the best colors for group hug cards, meaning you’ll only miss out on a few of the good 5-color cards listed here like Kenrith.
It’s hard to really say there’s one great payoff for playing group hug. As a concept, the payoff is really just whatever your opponents are able to do with the help provided. However, there are some good cards to include.
Anything like Brave the Elements that can be used to protect other peoples’ permanents as well as your own are good options. Alternatively, anything that can buff a creature your opponent controls can be another way for you to benefit other players.
If you want a good payoff that helps you win, that’s where some alternate win cons usually come into play. Stuff like Laboratory Maniac or Thassa's Oracle can work with group hug commanders, especially ones that are very draw focused. Everyone will be pumped about the extra cards they’re drawing until you deck yourself and win this way. Triskaidekaphile can be another sneaky way to win a game that your opponents likely won’t see coming.
Gluntch, the Bestower | Illustration by Olivier Bernard
If you enjoy experimenting with what Magic decks can do besides win the game, group hug decks can be a fun option. Looking at a deck and thinking “how will this help everyone else” makes you reframe the way you look at certain cards. What used to be drawbacks will soon start to look like benefits stapled onto whatever cards you’re playing. It can also just be a good way to promote a more casual environment within a playgroup when everyone isn’t just power gaming.
What’s your favorite group hug build? Do you enjoy playing decks like these? Let me know in the comments or on Draftsim’s X (formerly Twitter).
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