Too-Specific Top 10 - A Rising Tide
(Howling Mine | Art by Mark Poole)
...Hugs All Ships?
Welcome to Too-Specific Top 10, where if there isn’t a category to rank our pet card at the top of, we’ll just make one up! (Did you know that Seizan, Perverter of Truth is the only commander that allows multiple players to draw two cards?)
While there are multiple different types of strategies encompassed within the "Group Hug" moniker, the most popular of them is universal card draw.
Not every Group Hug commander has the card draw pasted right on it like Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, Selvala, Explorer Returned, or Kami of the Crescent Moon, but taking look through the high synergy cards for this archetype, almost half of them are universal card draw effects. More excitingly, in the lead-up to Throne of Eldraine it was announced that universal draw had actually been officially moved into white's color pie with the printing of Happily Ever After. For those of us that were already playing universal card draw and alternate win conditions in our Group Hug decks, this was a natural fit.
Okay, in my Phelddagrif deck, it was actually a very unnatural fit that I had to squeeze in sideways with Debt of Loyalty and Fractured Identity, but still:
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Aside from having me revamp a deck, however, what the color pie change really got me wondering is this: what are the best universal draw effects we have available right now?
Top 10 (Non-Wheel) Universal Draw Effects
My first try at this list ended up being more than half Wheel of Fortune effects. Now, I'm not saying that wheel and Timetwister effects aren't universal card draw. They obviously are, as they allow every player to draw cards. Still, those of us that have had a Memory Jar resolved against us are fairly aware that wheels are rarely cast with the intent of letting all players gain more resources. Indeed, the only wheel effects to make the cut on the Group Hug theme page are Jace's Archivist, Windfall, Game Plan, and Time Reversal. The first two fall neatly into the Mill category, an alternate win condition that many Group Hug decks pursue, and the latter two are the fairest versions of a wheel effect you could find, not even scratching the Top 10 Wheel Effects:
- Reforge the Soul
- Magus of the Wheel
- Wheel of Fortune
- Jace's Archivist
- Whispering Madness
- Echo of Eons
- Dark Deal
- Teferi's Puzzle Box
- Wheel of Fate
All in all, though, wheel effects just don't feel like they belong in Group Hug. Most players are unhappy to see them, and pilots who aren't directly utilizing a very un-Group-Hug-esque Underworld Dreams strategy are instead using them after they empty out their entire hand to immediately restock. While that's certainly something you could do in a Group Hug deck, the strategy is generally more focused on flooding everyone's board with resources that their deck isn't designed to utilize effectively, while yours is.
With that in mind, we'll be discounting wheel effects from this week's list, along with any other effects that are designed to keep resources balanced rather than excessive. This includes anything that has players draw cards only to then discard them or put them into their library.
Which just leaves us with a few corner cases:
Defining "universal" card draw is also a bit of a tough task. Alms Collector, for instance, allows you and an opponent to both draw a card, but only when they were going to draw more anyhow, which certainly doesn't seem very friendly. Curse of Verbosity feels a little nicer to you and the others that get to draw cards, but also leaves the targeted player out of the deal while incentivizing others to attack them. Lastly, Xantcha, Sleeper Agent does allow any player to pay three mana to draw a card, but deals damage to a single opponent whenever it does so.
While it is tempting to do what we do here on Too-Specific Top 10 and get into the nitty-gritty details to eliminate these unfriendly "universal" draw effects, it turns out to be unnecessary. The reason is, they aren't actually universal effects for the most part. Curse of Verbosity and Alms Collector don't let every player take advantage of them, and Xantcha, Sleeper Agent benefits the player with the most mana the most, provided they don't actually control her. With that in mind, the inclusion of the words "each and "simultaneously" in our criteria for this week seems to solve all of our corner cases equally, meaning we don't have to get too intense before just moving on to our list!
Criteria: Cards that allow each player to draw a card simultaneously that do not also have an effect that makes cards enter your graveyard, exile, or library. As is tradition, all results are ordered by EDHREC score.
10. Kami of the Crescent Moon
(Helms 337 Decks, Rank #324; 5,030 Inclusions, 2% of 222,667 Decks)
While many remember Kami of the Crescent Moon more for its punny nature than its functionality as a Howling Mine on-a-stick, it is nonetheless one of the only two mana effects that allows each player to draw an extra card each turn. A quick Scryfall search actually shows that it is only Howling Mine, Kami of the Crescent Moon, Stormfist Crusader, Lore Broker, and Anvil of Bogarden that allow this effect so cheaply, the last two of which actually have players discarding the extra card they drew.
Being able to have a Howling Mine in the command zone is a powerful effect for a mill deck or a Group Hug deck alike. That said, the large amount of play this legendary spirit sees is in the 99 of Group Hug and wheel decks, powering out card draw to the entire table early and often alongside its Howling Mine inspiration.
9. Selvala, Explorer Returned
(Helms 874 Decks, Rank #147; 4,929 Inclusions, 5% of 97,481 Decks)
Selvala, Explorer Returned, on the other hand, is rather popular in its own right as a commander. Being two colors and making an absolutely exorbitant amount of mana in addition to drawing the table a card, Selvala 2.0 is a popular and powerful leader of the Group Hug strategy and various big mana strategies all at once. While elves will always rule that second category when green is involved, the scenario still remains the same: If you want to untap and cast huge spells, Selvala can help you with that.
8. Fevered Visions
(5,887 Inclusions, 6% of 103,251 Decks)
Maybe the only card on this list to see more play in wheels decks than Group Hug, Fevered Visions has been a staple for Nekusar, the Mindrazer decks ever since it was printed in Shadows Over Innistrad.
That use has only expanded as wheel decks have gotten a boost with the printing of Xyris, the Writhing Storm and the partner pairing of Bralin, Skyshark Rider and Shabraz, the Skyshark this year. With that said, both Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis and various pairings with Ludevic, Necro-Alchemist like this as an extra Howling Mine in the Group Hug build as well, despite the Black Vise stapled to it that may draw a little heat.
7. Ghirapur Orrery
(6,697 Inclusions, 2% of 421,459 Decks)
While I was making the point earlier that universal card draw tends to be the main focus of most Group Hug decks, Ghirapur Orrery takes a look at all the cards that also provide mana to the entire table and asks, "Why not both?"
In all honesty, Ghirapur Orrery isn't very good at drawing people cards, and is mostly played for its extra lands ability. That said, if you do happen to be the player burning through entire hands, it can be a welcome sight. Which reminds me, if you're the mono-white or Boros player, this might be an unexpected silver bullet for you. It both lets you take advantage of your Land Tax effects while simultaneously allowing you to refill your hand when you run out of cards, as opposed to holding a few badly needed cards in hand in fear of a board wipe. You might need to play a few Karoo lands along with both Tithe and Gift of Estates to get to the point where it's consistent enough, though.
6. Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
(7,715 Inclusions, 2% of 421,459 Decks)
While less popular than the looting version in Geier Reach Sanitarium, Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is nonetheless included in all sorts of decks that have an interest in players drawing cards, whether those players be friends or enemies. In fact, the brand new mono-red hotness out of Jumpstart, Zurzoth, Chaos Rider, has an almost 80% inclusion rate for this legendary card draw utility land. After that, however, the numbers dip down quite a bit, with this option being used often-but-sporadically across a wide spectrum of decks. In other words, the usage for Mikokoro, Center of the Sea is much like the usage of universal card draw itself: contentious and without wide consensus. Outside of Zurzoth, that is. Three devils for three mana with a card tacked on is not a bad deal, after all.
5. Jace Beleren
(7,967 Inclusions, 4% of 222,667 Decks)
The original Jace, Jace Beleren was the first three mana planeswalker. While these days that seems to be a dubious honor, Jace plays quite a bit more fair than Teferi, Time Raveler or Oko, Thief of Crowns. Maybe warping competitive environments isn't everything, however, as Jace Beleren actually comes in as the fifth most popular three mana planeswalker, one ahead of Teferi and five ahead of Oko:
- Narset, Parter of Veils
- Ashiok, Dream Render
- Vivien, Champion of the Wilds
- Saheeli, Sublime Artificer
- Jace Beleren
- Teferi, Time Raveler
- Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
- Dack Fayden
- Aminatou, the Fateshifter
- Oko, Thief of Crowns
The more interesting question for me, however, is if Jace being higher on this list means that Group Hug and wheels strategies are just that popular, or if it's more that he's mono-color and easy on the wallet? After all, the top five contenders here cost less combined than a single Teferi, Time Raveler, even after he was banned in three different formats!
4. Temple Bell
(8,067 Inclusions, 2% of 421,459 Decks)
If your universal draw strategy requires a bit more timing than triggering on the upkeep or the draw step, then have no fear! Temple Bell has you covered. Allowing each player to draw cards simultaneously whenever you feel like it has its benefits, allowing you to draw that blue player some answers while the big game-ending spell is on the stack, or once again triggering Zurzoth, Chaos Rider for three devils or Xyris, the Writhing Storm for three Snakes during a combat step.
Or you could just use it as a second copy of Howling Mine. Just don't forget to tap it during that last player's end step!
3. Dictate of Kruphix
(8,729 Inclusions, 4% of 222,667 Decks)
One of the other disadvantages that Temple Bell gets around in comparison to Howling Mine is the fact that you get the card at the same time as your opponents, rather than them getting it first. Dictate of Kruphix lets you do one better with its flash speed, allowing you to cast it at the end of another player's turn and be the first to draw a card. Not bad for a couple blue pips!
2. Rites of Flourishing
(8,997 Inclusions, 4% of 207,162 Decks)
Where Ghirapur Orrery really shines when it comes to getting extra mana, but isn't so great when it comes to extra cards, Rites of Flourishing is more balanced and effective. Combine that with it being three mana instead of four, and it's an auto-include in pretty much any Group Hug deck that includes green. Which, if you look at the theme page... is all but six of them. Don't believe me? Scroll down a bit and look at Rites of Flourishing's inclusion rate of 94%. That's actually 6% better than Sol Ring's inclusion rate in Artifact decks.
1. Howling Mine
(11,945 Inclusions, 3% of 421,459 Decks)
It's also 10% better than Howling Mine in the Group Hug archetype, but this Alpha original shakes that off pretty quickly when you consider that it is much more useful across the board, rather than just in Group Hug. Indeed, Howling Mine's tap clause even allows it to see play in powerhouse decks like Urza, Lord High Artificer, while its mono-color nature also allows it to see play in off-the-wall hipster builds like one-third of all of the fifteen Gerrard Capashen decks in existence.
Throw in Zedruu the Greathearted as a final example of off-the-wall places you wouldn't necessarily expect to see the quintessential Group Hug staple, and it's not hard to see how these numbers bring Howling Mine to the top of the list, cementing its status as the ultimate universal draw spell.
With that said, there are some options that didn't make the list currently that I would say will most likely end up there at some point in the future:
Interestingly, Minds Aglow is probably only behind Kami of the Crescent Moon due to its named mechanic. By nature, Join Forces tends to end up in Group Hug decks alone, or at least doesn't show up in as high a rate in wheels decks. Despite this, it is for all intents and purposes a Prosperity that may allow everyone at the table to draw even more cards, especially if you've been successful in giving the table more mana than they can actually use.
If you are looking for an extra copy, however, or only want other players to draw as many cards as you want them to, then there is Prosperity. I would say that both of these cards really only fit in the Group Hug strategy, however, and only if your mentality of Group Hug includes the mantra of flooding the board with resources that you are best equipped to actually use. If you're instead pursuing an alternate Group Hug strategy of subterfuge, then these may not be the best inclusion. Of course, there are those among us (by which I mean me) that think that the political "strategy" of "look at me, I'm so innocent" is silly and ineffective, and is also the main reason that Group Hug is looked down upon. But hey, that's probably not stopping anyone from playing a deck with no win conditions, so by all means, play what you're gonna play!
If you are looking for a card that fits the Group Hug strategy to a "T", however, then look no further than Folio of Fancies. This card does everything that you want to do. From being an extra Reliquary Tower to drawing the entire table cards to milling out the entire table for the win, Folio of Fancies does it all. In other words, it should absolutely be near the top of this list rather than not even being included. More importantly, for those of you playing the absolutely correct strategy of "kill the hugs deck first", this is your number one target to remove if you do see it hit the board.
Nuts and Bolts
There always seems to be a bit of interest in how these lists are made (this seems like a good time to stress once again that they are based on EDHREC score, NOT my personal opinion...), and people are often surprised that I'm not using any special data or .json from EDHREC, but rather just muddling my way through with some Scryfall knowledge! For your enjoyment/research, here is this week's Scryfall search.
What Do You Think?
Pretty much every seasoned Commander player I've run into over the years has an opinion on Group Hug, and to put it mildly not all of them are mild. With that said, it is often one of the first strategies that people are drawn to upon entering the format, most likely because they want to be the player who is making sure that everyone is having a good time. Those new-to-EDH brews can be a bit all over the place, however, so, for science:
And finally, what do you think of universal card draw? Is Words of Wisdom your jam, or do you think it's inherent card disadvantage that can't really be put to good use?
Let us know in the comments, and we'll see you at the round table!