Hippos & Wumpuses: The Spirit Of Giving In Commander

Since it’s the season of giving thanks and gifts, today Bennie compiles all of the cards he could think of that give your opponents benefits. Check it out!

I hope everyone who celebrates Thanksgiving enjoyed yesterday, and with any luck you’re still enjoying the holiday weekend with family and friends. It’s the season to give thanks for the blessings you have, and thinking about giving and Magic led me to pondering the cards in Magic that give your opponents benefits. These cards often balance the power of the effect with the "drawback" of doing something to help an opponent, and in competitive formats you have to carefully weigh the pros and cons and sometimes figure out ways to make whatever is helping your opponent irrelevant. In Commander and other multiplayer formats, those "drawbacks" are often political gold and can go a long way towards making each game more enjoyable for everyone, albeit sometimes at your own expense.

Given the season of giving thanks—and the upcoming holiday that is often marked with gift giving—I thought it might be fun to comb through the Magic databases and compile all of these sorts of Magic cards into a reference document of sorts. I won’t claim this list is comprehensive, but I did my best to search for every sort of giving-type card I could think of and think I got most of them. If you think of any big misses, please chime in on the comments below!

Howling Heartbeats

Eladamri’s Vineyard; Magus of the Vineyard; Anvil of Bogardan; Howling Mine; Kami of the Crescent Moon; Heartbeat of Spring; Mana Flare; Tangleroot; Rites of Flourishing; Shizuko, Caller of Autumn; Walking Archive; Braids, Conjurer Adept; Font of Mythos; Ley Line; Keeper of Progenitus; Teferi’s Puzzle Box; Tombstone Stairwell; Blinkmoth Urn; Zhur-Taa Ancient; Gate to the Aether; Infernal Genesis; Wild Evocation

When multiplayer fans think of cards that help everybody, some classics immediately spring to mind: Howling Mine, Heartbeat of Spring / Mana Flare, and Rites of Flourishing. Many of them have some sort of an effect that triggers the same time during each player’s turn and are often ones where everyone else gets to benefit from the effect before the owner of the card gets to benefit. In multiplayer, there is quite a leap of faith in playing these cards since few things can be as devastating to your status in a game as investing in a card that helps everyone else and then that card is destroyed right before you get to use it.

If your Commander heart has a cold, hard Spikey layer, it would do you some good to play more of these cards and see how the games go—cards like these often grease the wheels of games, and players will often enjoy that. There have been quite a few spins on these sorts of cards over the years, most recently Zhur-Taa Ancient.

Making A Donation

Rainbow Vale; Ghazban Ogre; Wild Dogs; Goblin Cadets; Treacherous Pit-Dweller; Sokenzan Renegade; Wild Mammoth; Donate; Akroan Horse; Emberwilde Djinn; Order of Succession; Zedruu the Greathearted; Sky Swallower; Witch Engine; Karona, False God; Chaos Lord

These are interesting cards that often get passed around the table depending on how they’re used. Zedruu the Greathearted stands out as one of the coolest commanders ever conceived, really stoking the Johnny heart beating within all of us Commander fans. I haven’t played Rainbow Vale in a while, and it occurs to me that one of its problems back in the day was it could end up stalling in one player’s battlefield because he or she didn’t have any spells to play. Sure, they could tap it and pass it along, but there was mana burn back then. Nothing was worse than someone who’d Boggart your Rainbow Vale because they didn’t want to take damage and didn’t have spells to cast.

Now that mana burn’s gone, maybe it’s time to dust off those Rainbow Vales? Remember, Rainbow Vales passed around the table supercharge your Fellwar Stones and Exotic Orchards!

All Together Now

Homeward Path; Mikokoro, Center of the Sea; Hypergenesis; Living End; Wheel of Fate; Burning Inquiry; Pyxis of Pandemonium; Veteran Explorer; Exhume; Lore Broker; Runed Servitor; Winds of Change; Vision Skeins; Words of Wisdom; Flux; Game Preserve; Jace Beleren; Jace’s Archivist; Kitsune Palliator; Molten Psyche; Noble Benefactor; Noggle Ransacker; Show and Tell; Temple Bell; Timetwister; Truce; Wheel of Fortune; Whirlpool Warrior; Windfall; Brooding Saurian; Conundrum Sphinx; Eureka; Eye of Doom; From the Ashes; Kamahl’s Summons; Nature’s Resurgence; Otherworld Atlas; Vernal Equinox; Whispering Madness; Living Death; Magus of the Jar; Memory Jar; Reforge the Soul; Time Reversal; Underworld Cerberus; Pyrrhic Revival; Time Spiral; Twilight’s Call; Dragon Mage; Temporal Cascade; New Frontiers; Prosperity; Skyscribing; Weird Harvest

Most of these cards are balanced in power by providing a powerful effect to everyone rather than just yourself, and the more players at the table, the more game changing they become. Especially the "everybody draw a bunch of cards!" cards like Wheel of Fortune, Whispering Madness, and Memory Jar. Lately I’ve been itching to give Pyxis of Pandemonium a try—dropping it on turn 1 and then activating it each turn until you get to seven mana just seems primed to make for epic games! Seems like a perfect fit for a Glissa, the Traitor deck, no? Or anything with a Seedborn Muse in it really . . .


Elephant Resurgence, Tempting Wurm, Charmed Griffin, Enslaved Horror, Hired Giant, Hunted Wumpus, Iwamori Of The Open Fist, Shah of Naar Isle, Boldwyr Heavyweights

The old tournament player in me chuckles to recall back in the day creatures were so bad that a 6/6 for four mana was considered gigantic and had to have such a huge drawback to compensate. Of course, the drawback wasn’t much of one because the 6/6 usually outclassed whatever creature your opponent might have played, and Hunted Wumpus was so popular that quite a few spins on it were made over the years.

Nowadays creatures are much, much better, so these old gems are best used in multiplayer games to elicit fun and randomness—what are your opponents going to drop into play? It could be a small mana critter or some massive beast . . . who knows? I find that Wumpus-type cards are pretty sweet to play alongside a fair amount of Clone effects—once your opponents have dropped in their sweetest choice, you should have something awesome to Clone. My all-time favorite card for this sort of strategy is Boldwyr Heavyweights.

Pitch In

Flailing Soldier, Alliance of Arms, Collective Voyage, Minds Aglow, Shared Trauma, Flailing Ogre, Samite Sanctuary, Task Mage Assembly, Flailing Manticore, Tempt with Discovery, Tempt with Reflections, Tempt with Immortality, Tempt with Glory, Mana-Charged Dragon, Feral Hydra, Tempt with Vengeance

Once upon a time, Wizards gave Savannah Lions to red but tacked on a drawback and called it Jackal Pup. And it went on a tear through the tournament scene for quite a while. Flailing Soldier was a "fixed" Jackal Pup that didn’t do nearly so well, but it does present an interesting subgame in a multiplayer environment like Commander.

If you play it and everyone pitches in to kill it off, you know you’re doing something wrong politically in the game. If you play it and people pitch in to pump it and keep it alive, you’re doing something right—like maybe using it to club the Big Bad at the table. Pair this up with the Mana Flare / Heartbeat of Spring cards and things could get crazy! All of these sorts of "pitch in" cards make for some interesting subgames that can have a dramatic impact on the balance of power.

Something For You, Something For Me

Forbidden Orchard, Grove Of The Burnwillows, Soldevi Sentry, Hunted Horror, Armistice, Fiery Justice, Bargain, Hunted Phantasm, Soldevi Heretic, Hunted Lammasu, Hunted Troll, Lord of Tresserhorn, Phelddagrif, Questing Phelddagrif, Aku Djinn, Hunted Dragon, Soldevi Steam Beast

Back in the day, Soldevi Sentry was multiplayer gold—letting you spend one mana to set up a regeneration shield and letting an opponent draw a card each time you did so. At some point Wizards put the kibosh on that, and the oracle text says, "{1}: Choose target opponent. Regenerate Soldevi Sentry. When it regenerates this way, that player may draw a card."  Nevertheless, it’s still a pretty good way to hand out cards to win friends and allies around the table quite cheaply.

Of course, Phelddagrif is the big Papa Bear of this sort of "a little something for me, a little something for you" gift giving. By the way, any Samurai Jack fans out there? Whenever I see Aku Djinn, I can’t help but think about the villain Aku from the cartoon voiced by the awesome Mako Iwamatsu (who also voiced Uncle Iroh from The Last Airbender cartoon). "Once upon a time, there was a sweet little girl, with a red riding cape and GREAT FLAAAAMING EYEBROWS!"  Hmm, maybe a card alter is in order . . .

No Pain, No Gain

Overabundance; Winter’s Night; Maralen of the Mornsong; Duskmantle Seer; Spiteful Visions; Malignant Growth; Nekusar, the Mindrazer; Seizan, Perverter of Truth

Many of these cards are like the "Howling Heartbeats" above, spreading the goodies around the table . . . but at the cost of some pain. If you can’t quite bear to be completely generous to your opponents, these sorts of cards can satisfy your urge for some cash back on the gifts you’re giving! I’ve been curious about putting Maralen of the Mornsong in a deck—not necessarily as the commander of a mono-black deck but just as one of the 99. I’ve wondered what sort of effect letting each player replace their draw step with a free Demonic Tutor would have on a game. Obviously, you’d think this would allow combo players to go off faster, but if everyone is nabbing whatever card they want, aren’t some people going to go get cards to stop the combo?

Whenever A Player . . .

Unifying Theory, Excavation, Saproling Cluster, Endbringer’s Revel, Heartwood Storyteller, Horn of Greed, Pure Reflection, Waiting In The Weeds, Liege Of The Hollows, Well of Knowledge, Ifh-Biff Efreet, Sailmonger, Scandalmonger, Squallmonger, Warmonger, Wishmonger, Ink-Treader Nephilim, Hive Mind, Horn of Plenty, Eye Of The Storm

Way back in the day, I had a multiplayer deck that would win by having a Squallmonger in play enchanted with an Armadillo Cloak . . . and then I’d cast Channel. For nostalgia’s sake, I’m just a tad sad I can’t pull this off in Commander, but seriously—Channel would really just be too good. Still, the Monger cards and other like them are cool ways to spread around effects to everyone. Saproling Cluster is a fun one to see how often a 1/1 Saproling is worth a card to someone. You can obviously set up a deck that more easily takes advantage of it (paging Squee, Goblin Nabob!), but what about everyone else?


Oath of Druids, Oath of Ghouls, Oath of Lieges, Oath of Mages, Greener Pastures, Oath of Scholars

You know, it occurs to me that Oath of Lieges should be a part of nearly any non-ramp white deck to blunt the mana advantage the ramp decks tend to gain with their mana acceleration. It’s a great card to let everyone keep up and obviously provided some inspiration for Surveyor’s Scope from Commander 2013. At first I thought this grouping would just be all of the Oath cycle from Exodus, but then Greener Pastures popped in as an Oath-like card. Instead of helping someone who’s behind like the other Oaths, it lets the player that’s ahead on lands get even stronger by giving them . . . a 1/1 Saproling?

All Creatures

Concordant Crossroads, Mass Hysteria, Absolute Grace, Absolute Law, Angel’s Trumpet, Lumbering Satyr, Aluren, Avatar of Slaughter

Strangely, searching for "all creatures gain" and similar phrases didn’t yield too much, and I’m sure that I missed a bunch of these sorts of cards that help out everyone’s creatures. Running across Lumbering Satyr again reminds me of a funny story. Many years back I was playing in a State Championship tournament and was at the top tables near the end of the Swiss. I’d cooked up this funky Naya deck (before Naya was a phrase) that played mana critters, some big creatures, and would close the deal with four copies of Armageddon and a couple copies of Tectonic Break to leave my opponent helpless.

I was playing an opponent who had a really aggressive deck that featured a lot of burn and four copies of Lumbering Satyr. When he played that card, I panicked—how was I supposed to deal with that guy? Not only did he hit hard, but the turn he cast it all his earlier beatdown creatures would swarm in with Forestwalk—he was crushing green decks with that guy all day. But then I looked at my lands and realized in order to play my three-color deck, I actually did not have a single Forest in my deck! Outside of being a 5/4 beatstick, Lumbering Satyr was all upside to me.

Everyone But One . . .

Curse of Stalked Prey, Grollub, Haunted Angel, Indentured Djinn, Curse of Chaos, Curse of Inertia, Curse of Predation, Curse of Shallow Graves, Curse Of The Forsaken, Wheel and Deal, Curse of Echoes, Curse of Bloodletting, Death by Dragons, Arbiter of Knollridge

I’ll wrap things up with these sorts of cards that tend to benefit everyone at the table . . . but one. It might be you who misses out (Haunted Angel), it might be whoever is Cursed, or it might be whoever is on your shit list when you play Death by Dragons. When searching for these sorts of cards, I kinda laughed when I ran across Grollub—what a funky little subgame you might be able to stir up at the table to see how folks can deal damage to the Beast without killing the 3/3.

What’s really cool about many of these cards is that they often broaden what’s possible in a given game, giving access to certain effects or benefits to decks that wouldn’t otherwise get to use them. I know I’ve been in some Commander games where my deck has stalled and I’m just sitting there with my wheels spinning not having much fun as everyone else is doing their thing. Finding clever ways to add these sorts of "giving" cards to your deck can help mitigate those sorts of situations and help ensure everyone has some measure of fun each game. And really, isn’t that why we’re playing Commander with our friends to begin with?

Let me know what you think in the comments below, and have a great weekend!

Take care,


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