It took me many attempts, but I finally came up with a Group Hug deck I think I would actually enjoy playing. Since it’s Group Hug, it likes giving people things, and giving thanks for fun games. See, I like the idea of completely giving up trying to win and instead trying to help everyone else have fun. Except the ones I’ve seen, and up until now the ones I’ve built, kind of pilot themselves. You throw down some everyone draws cards effects, play more everyone gets something effects, and call it good.
One of the negatives of these decks is the fact that they help everyone. That means players who are already doing better, and often combo players since the effects help players draw cards and thus dig through their decks, get help just as much as the players struggling to stay in the game.
When the Commander decks were released last year, they came with new cards. One of these cards was Death by Dragons, which helped all but one player. You could cast it as a true Group Hug card and target yourself to be the person not to get a dragon, or you could choose the player who least needs the dragon and target them to not get it. Death by Dragons didn’t make the other 99 for the following build; nonetheless this deck is meant to be like that - you help everyone as long as things are equal, but you balance by controlling players taking more advantage of that help than everyone else, and you especially control any player that might be making it less fun for everyone else.
I chose Zedruu for this deck for several reasons: 1) In my experience, Group Hug decks are almost always Phelddagrif; 2) Zedruu seems made for Group Hug decks but seems to more pilot combo decks as a means of digging for the combo pieces, and I’d like add my Group Hug version of her to balance things; 3) I play Blue/Red less than I play Green/Blue; and 4) Red helps the control element a little more than Green.
May I present to you my Zedruu “Goat Hugs” deck:
This deck can really be split up into three groups: the traditional Group Hug effects, the controlling effects, and cards that work with Zedruu’s ability. Certainly some cards overlap. I always like to explain why cards make a list. I find far too few people just post their lists and call it good. Especially if you’re asking for help, explain why you chose your commander; your theme if you have one; and if you think players would suggest some cards over others, why you chose the ones you did. In addition to telling people the kind of players you tend to play with and the budget you have in mind (for the whole deck or per card), these help people avoid suggestions that won’t help you. They also help people get to know your deckbuilding style, which can help novice deckbuilders find their own style and helps everyone get to know you better, which seems to me the point of doing this anyway.
Group Hug Effects
The obvious Group Hug effects are the everyone-draws cards, like Font of Mythos, Kami of the Crescent Moon, and Mikokoro, Center of the Sea. Walking Archive is an underplayed card that does this, as it can become a great blocker too. It’s White & Blue color identity fits in Phelddagrif, too, so there’s not really a reason to miss it in most Group Hug decks. I also have Anvil of Bogarden, which I feel is essential to Group Hug decks; you want to avoid your fellow players feeling punished by your effects, as that’s not what your deck is supposed to do. Finally, I also have Forced Fruition and Swans of Bryn Argoll. Note that I am not running Howling Mine, Temple Bell, or the new and already popular Otherworld Atlas. I avoided those as I want to be able to donate these effects with Zedruu and know that they will still work; not everyone is okay with everyone-draws effects, and I don’t want to accidentally donate something to someone who won’t use it. Since this deck doesn’t care about card disadvantage anyway, Temple Bell over Howling Mine doesn’t matter to me.
To save myself from all of this drawing, there’s Reliquary Tower, Library of Leng, and Venser’s Journal, but also Mistveil Plains and shuffle-graveyard-into-library effects like Elixir of Immortality, Archangel’s Light (oh yes, I’d run this! even if I did wish it were cheaper), Time Reversal, and Temporal Cascade.
In all of my White decks I run Oath of Lieges, and this one is no exception. It’s just such a good card; it’s Group Hug along with some control, as it helps keep the ramp player more in check. Along with Oath of Lieges’ land fetch is Hired Giant.
Then there are the other free stuff effects, like the tokens from Forbidden Orchard, Haunted Angel when she dies, and the Hunted creatures; free stuff with Braids, Conjurer Adept; and, my personal favorite, recursion with Spurnmage Advocate should I need to destroy something.
Sixteen Group Hug decks are 4 less than what I’d prefer if this were a pure Group Hug deck, but since it’s a Group Hug deck with control elements, having at least 15 is acceptable to me.
Obviously part of the control package are counterspells. I decided to stick with counterspells that don’t let the spells go to the graveyard, so that meant Dissipate, Faerie Trickery, and Spelljack since they exile the spell, and Hinder and Spell Crumple since they put them on the bottom.
In addition to counterspells, there are Redirect effects: Obviously Redirect, but also Shunt, Swerve, Wild Ricochet, and Ricochet Trap. Similar is Radiate. The point of these spells is to turn a spell from it’s target to the target that most deserves it; stopping the destroying of a single blocker and instead destroying the biggest creature in play, giving the player who’s behind in land the extra turn instead of the combo player, etc. Radiate giving the spell to everyone nicely levels the playing field of most spells, the whole point of the deck. Note that Spelljack also allows me this effect for a lot of spells it might counter.
There’s removal, as well. Swords to Plowshares, Path to Exile, and Oblation make it here because they’re really good but also because there’s the possibility that I could use them for the positive ability (say, a player really needs to gain that life to survive combat, or could use some cards). Spell Crumple is just fun. Oblivion Ring, Journey to Nowhere, Faith’s Fetters, and Exclusion Ritual all can be donated with Zedruu. I already mentioned Spurnmage Advocate, as he is more legitimately Group Hugish than Swords or Path. Intrepid Hero controls players from getting too greedy with their large creatures. Sure, play them, but know I will take them out if I need to. Spine of Ish Sah gave me another effect that targets permanents, and rounded my artifacts at 8, which my OCD liked (yes, some of my deck building is affected by OCD; I’ve gotten used to it).
Then there’s the deflection effects: Captain’s Maneuver, Mirror Strike, Reflect Damage, and Divine Deflection to punish players from attacking the wrong player (me, the weaker player instead of someone else, etc.).
Then there’s Reverse the Sands to punish players for excessive lifegain, Parallectric Feedback for excessive X spells (especially Exsanguinate), Stranglehold to stop extra turn effects (although it shuts down some of my own effects, like Oath of Lieges), Damping Engine and to slow the player with the best board state, and a donated Ward of Bones to help the player with the worst one (provided I know that player’s poor board state isn’t a rouse by a combo player to avoid being targeted before he or she draws the rest of the combo pieces; it’s good to know who you’re playing against!)
Working With Zedruu
Finally, the effects that work with Zedruu’s ability. I’ve already mentioned most: Font of Mythos and Anvil of Bogarden were chosen because they can be donated and still have their effect; as were Oblivion Ring, Faith’s Fetters, Journey to Nowhere, and Exclusion Ritual. While Oath of Lieges would undoubtably have been added either way just because I like it so much, and Damping Engine was added before I realized it worked as a donate target too, it certainly helps that they have that versatility. Rainbow Vale, Goblin Cadets, Rogue Skycaptain (coolest creature name ever), and Loxodon Peacekeeper donate themselves. Ward of Bones as a way to help the player who’s way behind. Haunted Angel and Forced Fruition work better for me when I donate them; giving Forced Fruition to the one guy who has the best card advantage engines so we all can play catchup is a great tactic. Other than Haunted Angel, I’d prefer not to donate creatures as they’re always good for blocking. Still, that’s 15 donate targets, which, as I mentioned before, isn’t ideal to me if this were a deck really based off of Zedruu, but since it’s based off of something that she just happens to help with, I find it okay.
That’s most of the cards. The rest are pretty much just good blockers (since while I don’t care about winning, it’s hard to help players if I’m not in the game) and other lands, none of which really require much explanation.
I hope you like the deck. If you have any suggestions, feel free to say so in a reblog, the reply function or Disqus comments on this post, in a private message, or as a comment directly to the deck on tappedout.net (linked earlier).
I hope any player already running a Group Hug deck or thinking of building one considers the control aspects of this deck for their own build. It’s certainly important to make sure your deck doesn’t inadvertently help out the better player more than everyone else, and the control elements here help with that. Since most Commander players like balanced games, why not play a deck that has the goal of providing that, instead of a Group Hug deck that just sits back and watches the game? Just don’t make the mistake of using your great power for bad by kingmaking someone (picking a player and helping them win at all costs); use your power responsibly by just making sure most of the players are having fun and that the game is pretty balanced.