When a Hug Doesn't Mean Love: Kynaios and Tiro Deck Tech
Ryan is back with more Commander deck techs. This time he's playing politics with a group hug pet project. Join him as he explains the art of the "deal."
Defining a Group Hug Strategy
The Group Hug archetype is a multiplayer strategy focusing on prolonging the game by supporting other players and controlling the board state such that your opponent doesn't see you as a threat and even want to fight to keep you in the game because of how they benefit from your board. The core concept necessary for accomplishing this is playing cards that give your opponents gifts/rewards, and sometimes deliberately helping out the individual furthest behind in order to keep everyone in the game. This usually means not actively trying to win and/or end a game quickly. Group hug decks play a defensive game with reactionary plays instead of progressive ones. A group hug commander would rather assist others in dealing with threats instead of creating threats themselves.
So how does a group hug deck win a multiplayer game?
Group Hug decks are usually designed to sneak in wins, either by letting the other players take out each other first and win against the last opponent standing or by simultaneously finishing off all opponents at once.
Politics in Commander Games
Politics in MTG has been discussed in various ways and may be a sensitive topic for some. Some players agree and even enjoy using politics to manipulate and win games, others, such as Erik Tiernan from Star City Games, who wrote an article on this subject, thinks that politics is, and I'm quoting here, "a steaming pile of crap." You might agree or disagree with his arguments, but the fact remains that plays do get political in EDH games. Most players would agree that a player must be fully aware of "what his deck can do, what his weakness is, and who is the biggest threat to him winning the game," but people still play politics to try and gain advantage. What form this politics takes, and the consequence/rewards of these choices, is debatable and depends on the playgroup. Sometimes, they'll have consequences that bleed into other future games with individuals still bitter or fully mindful of other player's actions during previous EDH games. That is the nature of politics. Some players, knowing full well that certain opponents will go after a particular person first because they wronged them in a previous game, can use emotions like these to push them into specific plays.
Players aren't always able to make sound threat assessment and that gives the political players an advantage. Some only focus on developing their board or focus on getting their combo in hand. A political player will try to use his words instead of his cards to set a narrative that benefits him at the expense of his opponents. Sometimes people lie or misdirect, downplay threats or simply break promises to win. That is one form of politics; however, there is a different political game, and this game is played honestly.
"Honest" Mercenary Politics
There is a difference between informing the table that you can do something about a situation and just simply doing it. Let me elaborate on that. For example, a player is gaining advantage over the others and is creating too many tokens. You have a board wipe, which will affect this particular opponent a lot but won't really affect the rest of the table. You can simply play the board wipe, neutralizing the threat, but you also lose your ability to affect the way the others are playing. Commander is a game played, in a sense, at a disadvantage. You have more than one opponent (frequently three) and therefore you hold a smaller percentage of the total number of cards at the table. This is true for your opponents as well, but it means that your cards which affect the board are inherently less valuable. Removal that only affects one opponent leaves other opponents open to take advantage. This is what you give up by removing the threat without discussion.
Instead, you can threaten the board wipe and try to negotiate some advantage from either the opponent with the large board or those threatened by that board. You can ask the token player not to swing at you, lest they lose their board and their advantage to your board wipe. Another alternative is to ask the others what they can offer in exchange for casting the board wipe. This will create some advantage for you that doesn't require spvending cards, which is advantageous when you're usually at card disadvantage compared to all your opponents. This gives you options and intangible power over the situation. If you stop and think about that example, you are not lying about the board wipe (because you really have it), you are not tricking anyone into believing something false or misdirecting players (unless you decide to break your deal in the end). So far, you are simply offering your allegiance to the highest bidder.
This does not mean there will not be consequences, as some people will still remember your decision in the end but at least it did not create an immediate enemy without any context. Sometimes you will have an answer for a threat targeting somebody else, you can help that person for the right deal or simply keep your answers to yourself. These types of politics in multiplayer magic are all about interacting with the other players and negotiating for a deal that favors you the most. Keep in mind that this requires you to keep your allegiances and promises made, or else no one will take you seriously and your plan will backfire.
Another point to mention is the importance to vocalize threats and communicate with others about possible game winning plays by other players. Sometime vocalizing a threat is just enough to get other people to do something about it without you having to spend your resources to deal with it. Imagine you are keeping a Decimate in hand, you announce, "that the Grim Monolith player is going to start an infinite loop on his next turn." Suddenly, the guy on your left goes, "yeah I didn't see that" and he casts his Hull Breach to destroy the monolith. This play saves your Decimate for later, but still answers the game ending threat on the board.
Political Group Hug?
As I explained in my overview of group hug decks, these strategies are trying to maximize the fun for everyone while eventually trying to win. As a result, being political in a group hug strategy can yield some interesting results. To explain myself more clearly, I want to discuss a specific deck led by Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis. This was one of the commander pre-constructed decks from 2016. Like most, I agreed with The Command Zone's review of the deck straight out of the box. It was underwhelming and a bit all over the place with no clear ways to win or really negotiate with the others. However, I saw the potential of this commander deck and immediately tried to brew a list, which combined the group hug strategy with political play to achieve victory. The idea is to try and establish an understanding between your opponents that you are there to help them ramp/draw/cards/etc... The political aspect of the deck is not in playing political cards, but in the decisions you make and force other players to make. This deck, unlike other group hug decks, has several win conditions and benefits mostly from your opponents not wanting to attack you but instead focusing their aggression toward the other members of the playgroup first. As a result, when playing this deck, it's not just about the cards, but also the talking happening during the game.
Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis is a 2/8 Human Soldier for RGWU. Kynaios and Tiro lets you draw a card at the beginning of your end step. Then, each player may put a land card from his or her hand onto the battlefield, with each opponent who didn't drawing a card. This Commander lets you and your opponents' ramp and draw cards, with you potentially getting to do both. Your opponents, however, have to choose between ramp or draw. This is what makes this creature a group hug commander. It allows your opponents to gain an advantage in card draw or more lands at no extra cost. The high toughness also hints at a defensive card. It, therefore, will not threaten lethal Commander damage while it's on board (most likely).
They might even start thanking you instead. As a result, we don't even need to spend resources to protect our commander as other players will want to keep him around for their benefit. That is exactly what we want our opponents to think and to continue propagating this feeling, we can include cards that generate extra card draws for our opponents (which will be a secret part of one of our winning conditions). Cards such as Geier Reach Sanitarium, Humble Defector, Howling Mine, Rites of Flourishing and Font of Mythos all give us and our opponents extra cards. Edric, Spymaster of Trest even encourages players to attack our opponents for extra card draw.
In order to keep players from attacking us we run some protection in the form of pillow fort cards, which tax or even punish our opponent's resources for attacking us. Ghostly Prison, Propaganda, and Dissipation Field all do this nicely, along Michiko Konda, Truth Seeker, which actually make opponents sacrifice permanents if they deal damage to you. Windborn Muse and Sphere of Safety give you more taxers and Sandwurm Convergence stops any flyers from coming in while giving us a 5/5 wurm token on each of our end steps. Blazing Archon simply stops players from attacking altogether while leaving us free to do as we please.
We should also look at ways to divert aggression toward other players instead of us. Orzhov Advokist gives the choice to our opponents to make a creature bigger at the cost of not being able to attack us. Gahiji, Honored One buffs creatures who attack our opponents while Disrupt Decorum makes sure that our opponents attack each other for at least one turn. Gwafa Hazid, Profiteer can stop creatures from attacking or blocking at the cost of providing our opponent with an extra card. Speaking of extra cards, Fevered Visions is an enchantment that lets each player draw a card at the beginning of their end step. If that player happens to be your opponent, and has four or more cards in hand, Fevered Visions deals 2 damage to that player. This makes closing the game a little bit easier and players won't even be angry, because two life is easily worth drawing a card. Perplexing Chimera is a very fun card that lets people steal a spell in exchange of the chimera itself. This can create a very interesting environment where nobody wants to cast their best spells for fear of the others taking control of their spell.
Ramp and Removal
In order to support our strategy, we need to be able to build up mana. This means getting enough lands to be able to outmaneuver our opponents and take down threats which are not good for our game plan. For ramp, we are running the usual Sol Ring, some signets like Selesnya Signet, Izzet Signet, Thought Vessel, Chromatic Lantern to help fix our mana, Commander's Sphere, Kodama's Reach and Thaumatic Compass more so to be able to flip it into Spires of Orazca, which gives us a second Maze of Ith (we are also running a copy of Maze of Ith in this deck).
When it comes to single target removal, you have to be careful. If you play this deck and use your removal on threats without first discussing it with the others, they will turn on you. However, if you explain your reasoning for targeting something, and/or make a case to save someone from a threat, players will be more understanding. If you simply destroy someone's commander without first trying to negotiate a deal or ask everyone else if they also believe that this particular action require this particular response, you will find that the table will turn on you fast. The deck is trying to be friends with everyone but it is also trying not to let any one individual win. This is the hard part of playing this deck. A good way to play it is to always be honest about threat assessment. Do not lie or misdirect players into thinking that a particular threat is not what it seems as that leads to bad blood in the playgroup and you might be singled out in future games. Instead always be forthcoming, even if you are threatening someone's position (however, the scope of this strategy is to never be in such a position unless you are able to protect yourself or win).
So with that in mind, cards like Path to Exile, Swords to Plowshares, Arcane Denial which counters a spell but gives you and the opponent extra cards, Beast Within, Chaos Warp, Song of the Dryads and Sylvan Reclamation can be powerful negotiating tools against powerful threats. Fractured Identity also gives a copy of the destroyed permanent to the other players except its controller. Board wipes can be powerful negotiating tools as such these need to be cast at the right moments in order not to become public enemy number one. Cyclonic Rift, Wave of Reckoning, Austere Command and Blasphemous Act are good enough to keep your opponents in check. Ixidron is an interesting board wipe in blue, as it turns all creatures face down and they become 2/2 morph creatures. So you can get rid of any problematic boards without really taking away creatures from your opponents. Their creatures are now small 2/2, which unless they have morph can't flip face up (including commander creatures). Keep in mind that this can result in some alliances between opponents, as they can agree to attack each other and block with their commanders just so that they can cast them again from their command zone when they die.
So, how do we win?
The deck runs a number of win conditions, which means that we can be flexible when it comes to initiating the endgame. As finishers, we have Psychosis Crawler and The Locust God. Psychosis Crawler will drain our opponents each time we draw cards, which means that slowly but surely we can reduce our opponent's life total to within a killing blow from the number of hasty insects created by the Locust God. The Crawler also gets bigger equal to the number of cards in our hand so we can even swing in with it to finish off a player. Rogue's Passage and Kessig Wolf Run can make the Crawler unblockable or bigger with trample to make sure we will definitely hit someone.
Another interesting way to close out a game is to use Reverse the Sands and Treacherous Terrain. Reverse the Sands allows us to redistribute life totals as we see fit and Treacherous Terrain deals damage to each opponents equal to the number of lands they control. This combo can easily kill all the opponents in one turn if they are not careful and since everyone is putting extra lands on the battlefield thanks to our commander, we are guaranteed to hit for a lot of damage.
If that fails, we can even steal everyone's creatures with Insurrection, which allows us to swing at everyone without worrying about blockers. Reins of Power has a similar effect but targets only one player and we exchange control of our creatures with theirs. This can be used at instant speed, which means we can use someone else's creatures as blockers. We can even steal somebody else's win condition with Bribery. This spell allows us to go through an opponent's library, choose a creature and put it into play under our control.
Since everyone is drawing extra cards, we can also try and win by milling everyone. Milling is not a very consistent strategy in EDH and can backfire fast but in a deck like this, it can be an alternative win condition if everything else fails. Cards like Forced Fruition, Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur and Keening Stone are excellent for the milling plan.
Other Good Stuff
Sometimes, we will require certain specific answers for specific situations for this reason we are running Enlightened Tutor and Mystical Tutor in the deck. Being able to search for a sorcery, instant, enchantment or artifact at instant speed can help us get out of some sticky situations. Since we are drawing so many cards, I included Chasm Skulker, which gets a +1/+1 counter with every card we draw and when it dies gives us a number of 1/1 squid tokens equal to the number of +1/+1 counters on it. Eternal Witness lets us get back a card from our graveyard for reuse such as Teferi's Protection, which can save us from certain doom. Privileged Position gives shroud to all our permanents making our opponents unable to target any of our stuff. This is a good guarantee against opponents who don't want to play ball and want to disrupt our game plan. Tireless Tracker gives us a 'clue' token each time a land comes into play under our control and gets bigger when we crack those 'clues'. The 'clue' tokens provide extra card draw, which allows us to dig deeper in our deck and find what we need. Comeuppance is a very helpful spell that prevents damage and redirects it to the source of that damage. Phyrexian Metamorph can copy any creature or artifact on the battlefield giving us more options to control the board. An interesting card I like in this build is Uyo, Silent Prophet, which lets us pay 2 mana and return two lands to our hand to copy any instant or sorcery cast from any player. The best part is that we can copy the same spell all over again just by paying 2 and returning two lands each time. This makes it a perfect finishing combo with Treacherous Terrain (being able to copy the spell multiple times guarantees a ton of damage to each of our opponents.) Lastly I included Avacyn, Angel of Hope to provide us with another form of protection if players decide to become too aggressive towards us.
We won't be running any complicated lands for mana (we also have Chromatic Lantern for color fixing). Since we are playing four colors, we need to have some fixing, so I included the fetch lands and shock lands of our colors. I also included Command Tower and Exotic Orchard for similar reasons. The filter lands Cascade Bluffs, Wooded Bastion, Flooded Grove and Rugged Prairie give us some flexibility when casting spells and, lastly, but not leastly, having some utility lands like Arcane Lighthouse, Geier Reach Sanitarium, Kor Haven, Homeward Path, Maze of Ith, Reliquary Tower and Dust Bowl help further our strategy.
The Deck List
Playing politics in Commander is always a bit weird and tricky and playing a group hug strategy can sometimes leave you open for the others to overrun you. This deck forces you to become a political machine and tries to manipulate opponents into making decisions that favor you. If you manage to convince the other players to take each other out, it should not be too hard to sneak in a win at the very end.
With this underrated strategy, many will underestimate you and will not worry about your deck. The ability to negotiate is vital for such a multiplayer strategy to work and thus it can sometimes be difficult if your friends know your tricks. As I mentioned before, the best way to overcome such obstacles is to try and provide an honest, clear assessment of the situation and as long as you are not a threat to anyone, outline why certain plays are necessary. Then when the time is right, be ready to strike and win. Instead of focusing on giving my opponents useless 1/1 tokens or other irrelevant benefits, this deck tries to make alliances by providing specific answers to certain problems other players might be facing. As a result, the deck tries to be everyone's friend and prolong the game as much as it is needed to put you in a position to win.
What do you think of politics in EDH games? You think they make a difference? What about group hug strategies? Do you have any recommendations for this political group hug strategy?
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.