Shape Anew - Goup Hug that Wins with Phelddagrif

(Phelddagrif | Art by Amy Weber)

Hug You Very Much

Greetings, fellow EDH addicts. Welcome to another iteration of Shape Anew, where we create a decklist around popular commanders but must use at least 40 cards not featured on their EDHREC page, allowing us to explore different and new original strategies. This month, it’s time for none other than:


The Deadliest Savannah Animal

I follow quite a lot of Magic content creators on YouTube. One of my favorite deckbuilding channels is Commander’s Quarters. They really illustrate how simple restrictions, like theme and budget, can make for fascinating decks. One of their older episodes takes a closer look at Phelddagrif. It really focuses on the abilities of our purple hippo friend through a different lens. In this article, I’d like to do their way my way.

Phelddagrif is the very first group hug commander, and one of the more popular ones to date. “Group hug” describes a playstyle where instead of opposing your opponents, you help them, providing them with positive contributions. For some extremely dedicated group hug decks, this often leads to their ability to choose which of their opponents is going to win, but never holding that trophy themselves. To be honest, this strategy never seemed fun to me... that is, until saw the following strategy:

Give one specific opponent all the creatures they need. Support them exclusively throughout the game. This is a one-sided hug. However, throughout all this assistance, the plan is to always have a fail-safe ready that totally turns their board state toward your benefit. I’m a big fan of the combat phase myself, so advocating its use and abuse is right up my alley. 

On top of this approach, I’m trying something new for the deckbuilding process. I’ll be explaining the deck’s ins and outs through the 8x8 deckbuilding philosophy (initiated by goblintinkering). This divides the deck into eight categories, each consisting of eight cards. I hope that applying the philosophy for this article will better help anyone who wants to design their own version of this deck. 


Granting Tokens

The main gist of our strategy is that we want our opponents to have a lot of tokens. Phelddagrif will be able to do this for us, but I don’t like to completely rely on our commander for our strategy to work. Having it removed a few times (which, admittedly, is difficult given Phelddagrif's built-in protection) would devastate our plan, so redundancy is important. For reasons covered later, it’s also essential that any tokens we give our opponents are 1/1s. 

This is a category that isn't quite present on the main page for Phelddagrif on EDHREC: we want to (primarily) focus on the cards that let us choose which opponent will get the additional tokens. Hunted Phantasm and Forbidden Orchard are most effective at this, although I have to admit Alliance of Arms creates the largest pile of tokens, even if it does share them with everyone. Just remember to avoid choosing to help opponents that you expect might play anthem effects or have access to sacrifice outlets, as our strategy will not work as well on them. 


Controlling Combat

Now that our opponents have the creatures necessary to attack, we want to encourage them to do so. Although this should be part of any group hug strategy to fully reap its benefits, hardly any combat-controlling cards can be found on Phelddagrif’s main page. So, how would we incentivize using the combat phase?

Two ways: force them and pump them. Although forcing combat is primarily a red ability, blue also has a few effects to help us here. Imaginary Threats not only makes an opponent alpha strike, but also prevents their creatures from untapping next turn. This will encourage other players to attack them back, since their defenses will be down. Thus the cycle begins. We can also consistantly pump enemy creatures through cards like Crown of Doom, which spells doom for anyone but us. Another pump option is Echoing Courage which, due to the sheer amount of tokens our opponents control, will basically play out as an Overrun effect. In case you want to truly meddle, you can also use Benefactor's Draught to surprise the table.


Your Protection

How do we prevent attacks headed our way? Again, this is done in two ways: making them pay, or making it ineffective. The former is a strategy often adopted for group hug decks through the magical quartet of Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, Sphere of Safety, and Collective Restraint. The latter strategy is a little different and makes it important that our opponent controls 1/1 creatures. We nullify their impact with cards like Briar Patch, Orim’s Prayer, and Reverence.


The Punch

So, once our opponents have whittled each other down, there’s only one of them threateningly standing in our way to victory. They probably have an army of Hippo tokens (which we gave them) now headed our way. What do we do? Well… we punch back.

There are several cards that give boosts based on the number of creatures our opponents' control. A lot of them give us the necessary tokens to block, like Arachnogenesis. A more obscure one is Nacatl War-Pride, which basically turns into an army that decimates the defending player’s board. On top of the pyramid, we find Gideon, Champion of Justice (RIP). With the right number of creatures on the other side, Gideon can ultimate our very next turn and basically finish the game from there. At this point in the game, we are group hug no more.


Removal

The most interesting piece of the puzzle missing from the Phelddagrif EDHREC main page are the removal spells that remove the creatures based on their name. As we create masses of tokens for other players, we want to have several kill switches for when the tide turns a little too much. Detention Sphere, Declaration in Stone, and Deputy of Detention are examples of this in action. These cards are fine additions in their own right, so you should have no shame casting them to get rid of your opponent’s commander, with the added benefit of taking away token gifts in case the need arises.


Draw

Even though we are a group hug deck, we should avoid the symmetrical draw effects often present in similar decks. Instead, we want to draw cards based on either the creature count or hand size of our opponents. As our opponents' creatures are incentivized to attack, cards like Tamiyo, the Moon Sage can draw us a card for every single Hippo token that swung. Beck // Call is a little more mana-intensive to draw us cards, but has the nice ability to fill our board while doing so. 

Drawing cards based on an opponent’s hand size is done through Jace’s Archivist, Pulse of the Grid, and Psychic Possession. The built-in protection ability of our commander gives cards to our opponents, so why not use that to our advantage?


Ramp

The ramp package is quite standard. Normally, Phelddagrif decks pack a bunch of group hug ramp. The problem with it is that we might catapult some of our opponents into victory before we’ve had a chance to play our game. Instead, we just ramp ourselves.

I would like to highlight two of our rampers: Selvala, Explorer Returned and [elEdge of Autumn[/el]. I've included Selvala on account of her group-hugging nature. We’ve got several cards that benefit from our opponents drawing cards from Selvala's trigger. On top of that, she can generate quite a bit of green mana for us to churn out those Hippo tokens. Edge of Autumn, on the other hand, is one of the more undervalued ramp cards in green. The fact that it can only be played early is offset by the moments later in the game where we have all the lands we need and just want an additional card. 


Miscellaneous

The 8x8 philosophy encourages the addition of a “Personal” category. For said category, I like to add all cards that did not fit a specific category, or are essentially a category of their own.

  • Blackblade Reforged helps us suddenly win through commander damage. Phelddagrif can potentially have trample and flying, so that shouldn’t be the problem. This also ignores the life we potentially let our opponents gain.
  • Kavu Predator is a beast (figuratively speaking). We let it attack opponent A, grant life to opponent B, and smash opponent A into the ground. The counters stay, so the Kavu will eventually turn its tusks towards opponent B as well.
  • Dowsing Dagger is my favorite transform card from the Ixalan block. Phelddagrif can easily connect to turn it into a land, but even the two Plant tokens help us with our general strategy.
  • Lightning Greaves lets us protect and swing with Phelddagrif (or any creature, for that matter) out of nowhere. Generally, it makes our commander stick around more reliably, which is all we could ask for.
  • Questing Phelddagrif, the older sibling to our commander, and thus the ideal redundancy candidate.
  • Smothering Tithe, one of the big Commander staples of this year. It helps us in the 'our-opponent-are-drawing-a-lot-of-cards-because-of-us-what-do-we-do-now' department.
  • Titania's Song shuts down a lot of artifacts, which can be devastating for some opponents. On top of that, it turns them into creatures, and we thoroughly enjoy our opponents having creatures.
  • Axis of Mortality is probably the most fun life-exchanging effect. Phelddagrif grants our opponents life, only for us to take it away again, and we can do this every turn if we need to!

The Lists

I think other content creators can be a great inspiration, but I would highly advise to give your own spin to things. A big reason why I chose to adopt the 8x8 philosophy today is to give you a framework for a deck that can easily be adjusted. Maybe you don’t care about drawing cards? Remove that category! You don’t care about winning? Remove the “Punch” category! It’s a healthy way to look at decklists of others and keep the Commander format fresh(ish). For example, these 45 nonland cards in the deck don’t appear on the EDHREC main page:

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer


How this deck will be received is largely determined by the amount of politics engaged in by your playgroup. Piloting it is a balancing act - you need answers ready to turn the tide of battle in your favor, but may also need to pull strings to help struggling opponents remain in the match. You don't want the game to come down to a 1v1 until you're good and ready with an endgame plan. It’s an interesting, challenging, and most of all different deck to play. Even if you detest group hug decks, you can enjoy the purple hippo.

Hungry Huggy Hippos

Commander (1)
Granting Tokens (8)
Controlling Combat (8)
Your Protection (8)
The Punch (8)
Removal (8)
Draw (8)
Ramp (8)
Misc (8)
Lands (35)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer


Your Turn

Although Phelddagrif is probably the best commander for this strategy, its color identity doesn’t provide us with the best cards. Red is dominant in combat-oriented politics, and has an easier time gifting tokens to others and making them attack. Virtually all group hug commanders, except Phelddagrif, have a hint of red added to them for this reason.

So, for those interested, here’s an interesting challenge:

“Create a group hug deck (one that intends to win!) featuring red.”

I am very interested to see what you can come up with. If you have any result you’d like to share, you can send it to me via twitter or reddit (@ellogeyen and /u/ellogeyen). I’m open to any comments and discussion regarding the content of the article as well. 

Next month, we’ll be seeing a more tribal side of Magic! See you then!

Willem-Jan is a true Melvin; nothing is more beautiful than the mechanical interactions of the card on the battlefield. The scarcer the better. His favourite interaction? The one where he beats his opponents. Willem-Jan can be found on twitter @ellogeyen