Group Hug

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Group Hug is a Commander deck archetype known for providing resources to opposing players, sometimes in exchange for political favors, for the purpose of using those resources or favors to eventually win the game. Unlike other deck archetypes, Group Hug strategy is considered unique to the Commander format.

Group Hug decks may appear in any color, but most commonly contain white, blue, and green.

Popular Cards & Commanders

Popular Group Hug cards include:

Popular Group Hug commanders include:

Strategy

Group Hug decks frequently use cards that provide symmetrical benefits to all players at the table, such as Rites of Flourishing, Temple Bell, or Collective Voyage. Group Hug also enjoys almost-symmetrical effects, which help all players, but help themselves just a little bit more, turning incremental advantages over the course of a longer game into eventual victory. Examples of this include Tempt with Vengeance or Well of Ideas. Unlike Stax decks, which focus on resource denial, Group Hug decks focus on providing an excess of resources, gently tilting the scales of the game in their direction over time.

The goal of these symmetrically beneficial cards is usually twofold. First, it makes the Group Hug player appear less threatening than other opponents; since the Group Hug player allows Player A to draw cards, Player A may be less likely to attack them, and more likely to attack Player B, whose cards appear more self-serving and thus look more dangerous.

Second, Group Hug decks are typically built with this excess of resources in mind, while their opponents’ decks are not. For instance, when the Group Hug player provides extra lands to the whole table, and one of their opponents draws their Explosive Vegetation, the additional resources that spell provides have been rendered less useful than they would be in other contexts. Excess resources can also destabilize opponents whose decks are built with a specific mana curve and tempo in mind by changing the tempo of the game overall. In these instances, Group Hug decks seek to turn the advantages they provide to the rest of the table into their own secret weapons.

Political Favors

Group Hug does not exclusively rely upon political favor, though it is common. Examples of political cards may include Skullwinder, Curse of Verbosity, Pir's Whim, or Duelist’s Heritage. By offering specific benefits to other players, the Group Hug player may encourage those players to act in ways that benefit both that player and the Group Hug player, without the Group Hug player needing to expend additional resources to solve those problems themselves.
Group Hug players who do make use of political favors are not restricted to explicitly political cards, such as those mentioned above. Removal spells also have political applications in Commander, and may be used as bargaining chips with other players. For instance, a single Path to Exile may be used to eliminate a creature an creature that another opponent cannot deal with, or it may be used to eliminate an enemy's only blocker, or it may be used to rescue an opponent from an oncoming attacker, all in exchange for favors later on, such as immunity or a temporary truce. In fact, removal spells employed by Group Hug decks are often those that provide minimal upside to their target, both because they offer a diverse range of applications, and also because those upsides may also be used to curry political favor. Oblation and Arcane Denial are classic examples of this.
Some cards that do not normally have political applications can become extremely political in Group Hug decks. For example, Fact or Fiction can allow the Group Hug player to choose the person they think will give them the best options, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang may select an opponent who promises to recur a specific card the Group Hug player requests.
Politics are not a necessary piece of Group Hug strategy. If the Group Hug player feels secure in their deck’s ability to accomplish the tasks they’ve set for themselves without employing assistance from others, they may outfit their deck with a bevy of spells that help keep them secure without those favors. Politics is a common feature of the archetype, but individual players will dial up or dial down their preferred level of political interaction when playing Group Hug.

Defense

Employing politics with select players can draw aggression from the rest of the table. Some players in fact view Group Hug as the most dangerous deck at the table, because it provides so many benefits to their opponents. As a result, Group Hug players often employ a great many defensive cards in their arsenal.
The majority of defenses employed by Group Hug fall into the Pillowfort category. Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, and even spells like Disrupt Decorum are often employed to keep the Group Hug deck safe from aggressors. Group Hug decks also make use of lands like Maze of Ith quite often, both for defending their own life total from large attackers and to potentially make alliances with others.
Such defenses are especially necessary for Group Hug decks who provide their opponents with additional creatures. A Group Hug deck that uses Tempt with Vengeance or Sylvan Offering to encourage opponents to attack each other technically has no true guarantee that those opponents will not then turn those very tokens against the player that provided them. Group Hug decks seek to outlast their enemies over a long game, so these defensive components, combined with the abundant resources they provide, are a vital component for Group Hug decks to stymie aggression and make themselves a less attractive target in the eyes of their opponents.

Win Conditions

At their most basic level, Group Hug decks closely resemble Control decks. As per usual with Control decks, the pilot of the deck does not typically deploy win conditions until they feel they have successfully stabilized the board in their favor.
Because of the exaggerated number of resources Group Hug players provide to their opponents, it is also common for Group Hug players to employ some manner of Aikido spells in their deck, which turn an opponent's own momentum against themselves. In this way, Group Hug players are able to turn the boons they have provided to other players into the very tools that will defeat those players.
Because of the diverse number of political favors Group Hug decks tend to employ, and because Group Hug decks often facilitate longer games (or at least accelerate each player’s resources into board states typically associated with lengthy games) Group Hug win conditions tend to be extremely varied when compared to most other deck archetypes.
For example, the preconstructed Stalwart Unity deck from Commander 2017, whose primary commander Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis, utilized a Group Hug strategy and featured the following cards as potential win conditions:
Some of the above cards amass an army of tokens, some turn an enemy's own resources against themselves, and some even use a Mill strategy to eliminate enemies over the course of a long game. These win conditions are far more scattered than typically seen in Commander decks, and some even appear to contradict each other. Though the above examples are just from preconstructed deck, clever Group Hug players often follow similar strategies, including in their decks a similarly diverse package of win conditions, as they allow the player to respond to a diverse number of gameplay scenarios, and give them backup plans in case their original method of victory is interrupted.

Different Philosophies of Group Hug

"Group Hug” is often a blanket term for any deck that provides resources to other players, though there are many disparate strategies within that moniker.

Traditional

“Traditional” Group Hug decks provide resources to all players, and can make deals with anyone at the table. Any political alliances that arise during the game may shift between other players as the game continues. This strategy often involves a ‘puppet master’ approach, pulling strings in the background, sometimes encouraging aggression toward specific opponents (such as with Curse of Opulence) or by equalizing the board by helping struggling opponents and keeping powerful ones in check (for example, using Pir’s Whim to provide extra mana to a player who missed land drops). These decks pursue victory by staying under the radar, often allowing other players to knock each other out of the game, before finally announcing a win condition.

Kingmaker

“Kingmaker” Group Hug decks latch onto one other player, often providing extra resources to that player alone, to assist that player in eliminating all others at the table. This might be accomplished with cards like Vow of Wildness, Harmless Offering, or Intellectual Offering. Then, when they are the last players standing, they pursue victory by attempting to thwart their final remaining enemy, rather than having to worry about multiple other opponents.

Altruistic

“Altruistic” Group Hug decks are somewhat controversial, in that they often do not pursue victory at all. Instead, they accelerate the game by providing a bevy of additional resources to their opponents, not caring whether they win the game. This ‘altruistic’ approach to Group Hug is usually rare, and some may liken it more to a Chaos theme than to the Group Hug archetype.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Strengths

  • Group Hug decks can fly under the radar. Group Hug cards are selected precisely because they appear less threatening, which means opponents may be more preoccupied with removing stronger-looking cards and ignoring the Group Hug deck. This can allow the Group Hug player to sneak in surprise victories.
  • Group Hug accelerates the game to a state that many decks are not used to. This can destabilize opponents, and even render certain cards in their decks less useful, resulting in a board state more favorable to the Group Hug player.
  • Group Hug win conditions are very diverse, which also makes them adaptable, able to respond to any scenario. Some win conditions even use the strengths of their opponents against them. This makes them unpredictable, and therefore difficult to disrupt.

Weaknesses

  • Group Hug struggles with focused aggression. The more the deck is built with political favors in mind, the less likely the deck will be able to hold its own against a table unwilling to participate in politics.
  • Group Hug provides resources to the entire table, but that does not mean it helps all deck archetypes equally. A Voltron deck is much less likely to be assisted by advanced resources, and a Combo deck is very likely to find their combo pieces more quickly when a Group Hug deck allows them to draw extra cards. In short, providing resources to your enemies is risky, as they may easily use them to win the game before the Group Hug player has the chance to turn those resources to their own advantage.
  • Group Hug cards are designed with multiple players in mind; it is impossible to engage in politics against a single opponent, and when the game is reduced to just two remaining players, many of the cards that assist all players become liabilities, rather than assets. Skullwinder, for example, is helpful with four players, but less so against a single opponent.


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