Last updated on January 14, 2022
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis | Illustration by Willian Murai
Magic is a challenging game. You constantly need to guess what your opponent is about to do, keep track of your deck, make the right play decisions… After all, you’re playing to win. This requires some finesse and politics, especially in multiplayer formats like Commander. You need to build alliances, attack at the right moment, and scheme a little bit. You’re all enemies until the game ends…
Unless you choose the power of friendship.
That’s right, you can actually win a Commander game through the power of friendship. We call this “group hug,” which is a rather hilarious way to play the game. Most group hug decks don’t actually have a clear win condition on their own. They’re built for something else: to support other players.
You can use this power for many things, like extending the game as long as possible by supporting whoever is getting hurt the most or scheming behind the curtains and controlling the board for a sneaky wincon. Of course, you can also make sure nobody wins the game.
That’s enough exposition, though. Let’s get into group hug in EDH. What is it, the history, the best cards, and more!
What Is a Group Hug Card in EDH?
Folio of Fancies | Illustration by Colin Boyer
A group hug card is basically one that benefits all players. You wouldn’t use them in 1v1 games since it wouldn’t be very beneficial, but they can be very useful in EDH. Take Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis as an example.
Kynaios ensures that every player gets to draw or put a land card on the battlefield while you get to do both. You’re getting the most benefit, naturally, but your opponents don’t really have a reason to spend resources to remove it from the battlefield since they’re also getting something out of it.
What’s the Point of Playing a Group Hug Deck?
Group hug decks can be used to various ends. Some people just want to play longer games, and a group hug deck is one of the best ways to keep the board (or other players) under your control. Since you can jump in anytime a player gets too far behind and even the odds, the game will last longer. This also brings a lot of politics to the table and there are a lot of players who turn these sessions into a grand strategy game.
Another reason might be that group hug players want to see how much their opponents can throw against them. Any game with a group hug deck eventually ramps up so much that mana isn’t a problem anymore, everyone has their artifacts and enchantments on the board, and each turn can lead to some epic plays.
Finally, it may be that the player with a group hug deck is plotting a clear, treacherous win. Most group hug decks don’t have a definite win condition, but buffing everyone also means that they run out of cards pretty quickly. Who says you can’t swoop down and win the game after luring everyone out with a well-timed Hypergenesis?
Why Do Some People Hate Group Hugs?
Kenrith, the Returned King | Illustration by Kieran Yanner
As you might expect, not everyone likes facing group hug players. Games with a group hug player tend to turn into a powerplay. When there’s a player constantly buffing everyone, the game’s mid-stage is skipped pretty quickly and everyone brings out their big guns. This hurts faster decks the most since their opponents gain access to board wipes and strong defenses way sooner.
This brings us to the main problem: stronger, mid- to end-game decks usually benefit the most from group hug. Mana-hungry decks with end-game combos need to stay on the defensive and fend off early attacks to win. But group hug cards like Collective Voyage or Mana Flare solve the mana problem for them and sometimes end up in deliberate or accidental “kingmaking.”
After all, the idea that one player can choose the fate of the game can definitely be annoying.
How Does a Group Hug Deck Actually Win?
Well, most group hug decks have trouble winning because they focus more on sowing chaos on the board. They may run several wincons, but the first one is very simple: save a couple of 2- or 3-card combos or some hard-hitting creatures that can be summoned at critical moments.
Splinter Twin with a heavy hitter is a solid example, but it’s predictable and easy to handle. Although you’re hugging everyone, they also know that you’re waiting for the right moment to strike. It’s only natural that your opponents keep some tricks up their sleeves. Still, it’s much more consistent than saving up for a grand combo to instantly win the game.
Experienced group hug players play more subtly. You may be trying to be fair and help everyone at the table, but you also need to make sure that some of your cards benefit you and you alone. Sure, Heartbeat of Spring helps everyone and is great for any group hug deck, but adding a Zendikar Resurgent to the mix will make sure you’re getting more. But you need to tread carefully here, because the other players will start seeing you as the real threat if you ramp up too much.
You need to set up your defenses to the point where attacking you isn’t cost-effective. You’re already giving bonuses to your opponents, which is a good deterrent, but they could give up anytime. You never want to be at the mercy of other players, so you should run some protection like Dissipation Field or Ghostly Prison. EDH has a lot of these “pillow fort” cards that should give you the time you need to prepare your combos.
Group Hug vs Group Slug
Plea for Power | Illustration by John Severin Brassel
We’ve covered group hug in Commander, but there’s also something called “group slug.” As you’ve probably guessed, these decks damage all players at an equal rate instead of supporting everyone.
While games with a group hug player tend to last longer, games with a group slug player are a ticking time bomb. Group slug decks usually come with a damage multiplier card like Furnace of Rath and lots of mass removal because group slug players are almost definitely going to be everyone else’s main target.
Group slug is a fun way to play Magic and quite a challenge if you want to push yourself.
Best Group Hug Commanders
Since we covered all the basics, let’s take a look at the best group hug commanders you can use in EDH.
Let’s start with one of the most iconic group hug commanders: Phelddagrif is like a fairy granting everyone at the table wishes.
It’s a 4/4 creature with green, white, and blue colors, so you’ll have access to pretty much anything a group hug deck needs. Although Phelddagrif is a good choice for a commander thanks to its color access, it is somewhat weaker than other commanders in terms of both its hug potential and direct damage.
Braids, Conjurer Adept
Braids, Conjurer Adept is a commander that ensures a very fast-paced game. It has rather weak stats for a 4-mana commander, but its ability works wonders for everyone. It’s very easy to lose control of the game right after you put Braids on the battlefield, so you should get yourself ready first. It’s not board presence you’re looking for, you should literally have the upper hand here.
Decks running Braids as a commander usually focus on drawing lots of cards and having no maximum hand size. You can use it with Folio of Fancies but I prefer something like Reliquary Tower or Thought Vessel to keep your card advantage.
Karona, False God
Here is a commander that’s almost intentionally built for jank decks. Karona, False God switches alliances on a whim, letting each player take control each passing turn. It’s already a strong card as a creature, but its attack ability is devastating when combined with a tribal deck.
Karona is a very high-profile card, though, and may not be considered lovely by everyone. It’s also a double-edged sword, but drop an Uncontrollable Anger and Armadillo Cloak on it with lots of counterspells to protect it from sacrifice and targeted removal to make sure your friends never play with you again.
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is probably the most commonly used commander for group hug decks. The reason is simple: everyone gets to draw or ramp, but you get to do both. As I mentioned earlier, it’s very important in group hug decks to benefit a little more than the other players so you have a chance to actually win.
You’ve got access to all colors except for black, so you can have several wincons ready to go. Since it’s very easy to ramp with Kynaios and Tiro, I’d suggest running pillow forts like Propaganda and Ghostly Prison and then going for a clean finish.
Insurrection is a solid way to finish everyone off if there are lots of creatures on the battlefield. Otherwise you can use Tempt with Vengeance with Cyclonic Rift to create a massive army if you ramped too high. Bonus if you can buff them a little more.
Kenrith, the Returned King
Kenrith, the Returned King is a rather new addition to the game, but it’s definitely a great commander, be it for group hug decks or not. It’s a 5/5 white creature for five mana with five different abilities which is kind of cool. However, since Kenrith is a king, the real power comes from how you choose to use this power.
You can use it for yourself to get out of a pinch, or you might use it to bless the peasants (i.e., other players). You have access to all five colors and five abilities, so the sky is really the limit for Kenrith. The only downside is that it really sticks out, so you’ll need to engage in politics to survive.
Best Group Hug Cards
Choosing a commander for group hug decks is somewhat tricky, but you actually have several easy choices when it comes to group hug cards. There are plenty of cards and mechanics out there that support it, like Commander 2011’s join forces.
It’s almost as if WotC wanted us to play Magic as a game of politics. Naturally, I won’t be listing every group hug card, but you’ll find the best below.
Kami of the Crescent Moon
One of the best ways to hug other players is to give them free draws. Kami of the Crescent Moon costs a measly two blue mana and makes sure everyone has enough cards as long as it’s on the battlefield.
Folio of Fancies
Kami provides everyone with additional cards, but it’s useless if you can’t use them right away. Folio of Fancies makes it so nobody has a maximum hand size. You can even use its first ability to have everyone draw more.
Combined with Kami, it’s practically guaranteed that everyone is able to ramp and build their board presence instantly. Plus, Folio’s second ability also works as a deterrent for players who want to unleash everything in a single turn and works great in group hug decks with mill-based win conditions.
There are too many draw-based group hug cards, so I’ll just list Scheming Symmetry and leave the rest out. Instead of benefiting everyone, this one benefits you and one of your opponents. This works great when you want to rescue one of the players from a tight spot and benefit yourself at the same time. It’s also very powerful when combined with miracle cards.
No matter what you do, there might come a time when players can’t ramp properly or use their hand to full potential for some reason. It might even be the case that everyone is eyeing each other and the game loses its momentum.
Hypergenesis jumpstarts the game as everyone can put pretty much any permanent except for planeswalkers into play without any cost. This means that everyone gets access to their end-game spells and chaos is sure to follow.
Heartbeat of Spring
Establishing a solid mana base can be a problem for every player in EDH, so what better way to keep everyone happy than handing out free mana? Heartbeat of Spring costs only three mana and adds another mana of any type a land could produce whenever someone taps it for mana. Your opponents, especially the mana-hungry ones, will definitely be on your side once you unleash this enchantment.
When it comes to handing out free mana, few cards can compare to Collective Voyage. It’s very simple: starting with you, everyone pays X mana, and then all players get to put a number of basic land cards equal to the mana spent this way onto the battlefield.
Especially when used around mid-game, the Voyage helps everyone solve their mana problems. The game also ramps up so suddenly that any player who isn’t prepared will face serious problems, so keep that in mind.
There’s also Minds Aglow, which works the same except everyone draws X cards instead of putting lands on the board.
Tempt with Discovery
My final choice for giving out lands, Tempt with Discover, is a kind of group hug card that makes sure you have the advantage. You get to search your library for any land card and put it into play and then repeat for every player who does the same. This might put you on their radars, but you’re still giving out free mana, so not many will object.
Sometimes EDH games need a mediator to bring balance to the board. A little bit on the janky side, Abyssal Persecutor makes sure nobody wins the game. Simple, right? You get a 6/6 creature with flying and trample, which is already awesome as it’s difficult to get rid of. But it all comes down to how you choose to use it.
You can make sure a doomed player stays in the game or prevent someone from winning, so you need to get your alliances straight and protect the Persecutor if you want to stay in the game.
Sometimes one of a player may lose a critical card and end up suffering. As their benefactor, it’s only natural for you to help them get their cards back. Nullmage Advocate, Pulsemage Advocate, and Spurnmage Advocate are great group hug cards since you can control the board much more efficiently and choose which player you want to help.
Plea for Power
I’ll end the list with a somewhat controversial choice. You’ve been helping everyone so far, making sure they have all the lands they want, they get free draws, you even got some of them out of serious trouble. And though you do this with all the kindness in your heart, it’s now their turn to show their gratitude.
Plea for Power is a vote-based card that allows your opponents to choose whether you’ll get a free turn and draw three cards. Politics is a key part of the game, so why not make sure other players want the best for you?
A Little Taste: My Group Hug Deck
Since I talked this much about group hug decks, it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t give an example decklist! Here you go:
Kami of the Crescent Moon
Pramikon, Sky Rampart
Xyris, the Writhing Storm
Kwain, Itinerant Meddler
Gor Muldrak, Amphinologist
Gahiji, Honored One
Braids, Conjurer Adept
Edric, Spymaster of Trest
Approach of the Second Sun
Crackle with Power
Tempt with Discovery
Tempt with Vengeance
Winds of Abandon
Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
Temple of Abandon
Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Epiphany
Temple of Mystery
Temple of Plenty
Temple of Triumph
Now, let’s talk about how you can play this deck. Your first goal is to make sure everyone likes you. You have all the essential cards for it. Dictate of Kruphix, Dictate of Karametra, or Kami of the Crescent Moon are enough reason for your opponents to keep you in play.
If they turn against you at any point, Sphere of Safety, Ghostly Prison, and Lightmine Field will give them enough trouble before you draw one of them to your side. You don’t have too many removals, so you need to make sure your opponents weaken each other before you swoop in.
Tempt with Vengeance, Insurrection, Approach of the Second Sun, Helix Pinnacle, and Laboratory Maniac are your wincons, but they’re somewhat difficult to pull off so you need some real strategy to create your opportunity. But group hug decks are meant to have fun, not to win. It is epic when you do win, though. Either way, your win conditions are definitely something to boast about.
It’s the Friends You Make Along the Way
Heartbeat of Spring | Illustration by Rob Alexander
Well, that’s that. Group hug decks are definitely one of the more difficult decks to play with, but they’re very satisfying. Engaging in politics in Commander is inevitable, so why not appear as a loving, friendly player who just likes to give hugs while scheming to prepare everyone’s ruin? Try it; you’ll definitely have fun, but you might also ruin your friendships in the process.
That’s all I’ve for you today, though. See you around!