I’ve wanted to build a Phelddagrif "group hug" deck for a while, ever since I heard about the notion of a Commander deck described as a group hug. Who doesn’t love hugs? Basically, it’s the exact opposite of the vicious, fast, cutthroat combo-kill-the-table Spike Commander decks that so many fans of the format seem to loathe. Instead, the "group hug" deck is chock full of cards that help everyone outâ€”Tempting Wurm, Howling Mine, Veteran Explorer, Indentured Djinn, Heartwood Storyteller, New Frontiers, Rites of Flourishing.
The idea is that you’re playing so many cards that everyone is enjoying that everyone is loathe to take you out of the game, and hopefully you’ll be able to ride that goodwill long enough to make it to the end or even steal the game. You typically want green because green has a long history of "sharing" effects with opponents. Phelddagrif is a green/blue/white legend and makes a good commander to build this style of deck around because he has abilities that help you while also helping out an opponent in some way (gain life, draw a card, or get a 1/1 green Hippo token).
I’ve not yet pulled the trigger on building my group hug Phelddagrif deck though, in large part because so many folks around these parts lean more towards those vicious, fast, cut-throat decks I described above, and the last thing I want to do is help those players pull off their kill-the-table combos even faster. Recently it occurred to me, why not pick warm, cuddly Phelddagrif as my Commander…but put a bunch of mean cards in it?
Thus, Mean Hippo was born!
It reminds me of that opening scene from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? You’ve got the innocent little baby that roaming around is getting into trouble, and Roger races to keep him from getting hurt. Then after the scene cuts, that little baby ends up being a profanity-spewing, cigar-chewing, skirt-chasing jerk.
I may have to get another copy of Phelddagrif altered smoking a cigarette with devil horns and bat-wings, and once my deck’s true nature reveals itself, flip it over to the Mean Hippo.
I expect this to be a work in progress; tweaking it here and there, cutting cards that are too nice, upping the mean quotient as time goes by. But for now, this is what I’ve pulled together.
When I think of green, blue, and white I naturally think of the Bant shard, and when I think of Bant I think of Exalted. This actually fits in nicely with what I want to do with this deck, namely surprise everyone when my cute and cuddly Phelddagrif becomes a lethal, rampaging hippo beast. I think back to how much damage I was able to do with a lowly Birds of Paradise backed by Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour and imagine the fun I can have with a trampling, double-striking, lifelinked Phelddagrif with two attack steps ("Here’s a hippo token for your trouble.").
Sovereigns of Lost Alara immediately jump to mind, combining with Eldrazi Conscription…but I ultimately decided against it. I didn’t necessarily want to put too many auras in the deck to make Sovereigns worth playing; though I guess I could squeeze in some ways to shuffle Conscription back into the deck if I need toâ€”cards like Scroll Rack, Loaming Shaman, Mistveil Plains. What do you think: worth it?
I’ve always wanted to play Giltspire Avenger as a nice Rattlesnake card to ward off random hits from non-lethal creatures, and Angelic Benediction can make it tough for opponents to keep back chump blockers…like maybe the Hippo token you gave an opponent for Phelddagrif’s trample ability.
Playing with white also gives you the opportunity to play with the color’s "rule-setting" themes that can really be mean to the entire table. Cards like Aven Mindcensor and Linvala, Keeper of Silence spring to mind. Voidstone Gargoyle can turn off a troubling permanent orâ€”even more fun/meanâ€”prevent someone from playing their commander until they deal with the Gargoyle first.
One card I’m eager to try out is Oracle en-Vec. Forcing a player to commit to attacking or not on my turn can really throw a monkey wrench into a multiplayer game, especially if it’s the guy immediately to my right. Does he telegraph his attacks when there are three or four people whose turns are before he goes again? What if he’s got a big, scary monster and everyone is worried who it might attack? I think the politics of this card will be quite sweet!
There’s another wrinkle I’m looking forward to: the Oracle’s ability to destroy a creature that commits to attacking but then can’t. Right now I’ve got Glare of Subdual and Azorious Guildmage to pair up with that, but I’m also considering Stonehorn Dignitary.
Speaking of Azorious Guildmage, what a great/mean card! Sure, it’s mana-intensive as hell, but it can sure throw a big ass kink into all sorts of activated abilities. I’m also looking forward to slapping someone with a Curse of Echoes; I’m figuring by the time turn 4 or 5 rolls around it should be clear who’s playing a lot of instants or sorceriesâ€”Demonic Tutor for everyone! Similarly, I love how Edric, Spymaster of Trest encourages everyone to attack everyone…else.
There’s a special place in hell for people who play Proteus Staff, and I’ve reserved my seat there with this deck. I am already priming my evil laugh for when I tuck someone’s commander on the bottom of their deck and ask them politely if they’re packing Cellar Door before I cackle with delight and stroke the bat wings on my Mean Hippo.
Storm Seeker! This old favorite (I’ve got the original Legends version) is a great way to be mean to Mr. Draw-Go at the table, and since it’s instant speed it’s a perfect unpleasant surprise. I’d also chalk up Triumph of the Horde as a mean card, turning what looked to be a manageable small army of creatures into a suddenly lethal force. In particularly, I’m hoping to pull off some craziness like casting Triumph when I have a Hydra Omnivore and Finest Hour in play and an opponent who has no blockers…
Time Stop can be incredibly mean, but sometimes it’s also the only card that can potentially keep a player from combo killing a table. I try to put a Time Stop in any blue Commander deck I play, but I think it also qualifies as a mean card!
I can’t think of green, white, or blue creatures without thinking of Deadeye Navigator and all the creatures with sweet enters the battlefield abilities, some of which definitely push into the realm of mean cards when you can Blink them at instant speedâ€”cards like Stonecloaker, Mystic Snake; Venser, Shaper Savant; Acidic Slime; and Duplicant. Of course, I want to add a bunch of just good stuff/value cards to Blink like Deadwood Treefolk, Sun Titan, Mulldrifter, Reveillark, Karmic Guide, Eternal Witness, Riftsweeper, and Wall of Blossoms. It can reset my persist Glen Elendra Archmage. Mistmeadow Witch can do a slower Deadeye imitation of some of those but has the added value of being able to Blink out opposing creatures.
I’m super-stoked to play Alchemist’s Refuge as a "free" replacement for Vedalken Orrery. Not free as in mana-free, but free as in not really taking up a card slot since it just slips in one of the land slots. It’s a Winding Canyons on steroids!
Here’s the deck as of now:
- 1 Mother of Runes
- 1 Wall of Blossoms
- 1 Captain Sisay
- 1 Seedborn Muse
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Mystic Snake
- 1 Duplicant
- 1 Phelddagrif
- 1 Oracle en-Vec
- 1 Karmic Guide
- 1 Academy Rector
- 1 Mageta the Lion
- 1 Sakashima the Impostor
- 1 Azorius Guildmage
- 1 Saffi Eriksdotter
- 1 Deadwood Treefolk
- 1 Stonecloaker
- 1 Voidstone Gargoyle
- 1 Aven Mindcensor
- 1 Mistmeadow Witch
- 1 Riftsweeper
- 1 Venser, Shaper Savant
- 1 Mulldrifter
- 1 Reveillark
- 1 Scuttlemutt
- 1 Bloom Tender
- 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
- 1 Battlegrace Angel
- 1 Rafiq of the Many
- 1 Giltspire Avenger
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Edric, Spymaster of Trest
- 1 Hydra Omnivore
- 1 Deadeye Navigator
- 6 Forest
- 4 Plains
- 1 Treetop Village
- 1 Gaea's Cradle
- 1 Reflecting Pool
- 4 Island
- 1 Tundra
- 1 Tropical Island
- 1 Savannah
- 1 Maze of Ith
- 1 Selesnya Sanctuary
- 1 Temple Garden
- 1 Azorius Chancery
- 1 Breeding Pool
- 1 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Simic Growth Chamber
- 1 Vivid Creek
- 1 Vivid Grove
- 1 Vivid Meadow
- 1 Bant Panorama
- 1 Seaside Citadel
- 1 Exotic Orchard
- 1 Rupture Spire
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Sunpetal Grove
- 1 Stirring Wildwood
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Hinterland Harbor
- 1 Alchemist's Refuge
- 1 Sensei's Divining Top
- 1 Swords to Plowshares
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Time Stop
- 1 Fellwar Stone
- 1 Storm Seeker
- 1 Darksteel Ingot
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Lightning Greaves
- 1 Proteus Staff
- 1 Eladamri's Call
- 1 Rout
- 1 Aura Shards
- 1 Tormod's Crypt
- 1 Glare of Subdual
- 1 Angelic Benediction
- 1 Finest Hour
- 1 Temple Bell
- 1 Nim Deathmantle
- 1 Triumph of the Hordes
- 1 Swiftfoot Boots
- 1 Curse of Echoes
Now, I realize that I could make this deck a whole lot meaner, but I mainly just want to have some cards that clash with the warm, fuzzy feeling you usually get from playing against Phelddagrif. What would you suggest for a Mean Hippo deck? The cards can range from medium-mean to red-hot-mean!
I’m not working tonight, but I think I’m going to skip Friday Night Magic and try to rustle up some Commander games, with at least one game with Mean Hippo. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Have a great weekend!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!
New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3Â (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)