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By Leloup Damien
Hippolitix : a free-for-all deck

In those times, elephants seem to be everywhere. Everyone seems to have forgotten that the best pachyderms available are, in fact, hippos. Time for a little lesson.

It does not take much thinking to realise that Questing Pheldagriff is a good card. A creature with multiple abilities that mimic Morphling ‘s cannot be a bad card, hum ?

But if you’ve not played the hippo in a multiplayer, free-for-all game, you do not have the least idea of its power. The Planeshift Phelda (and its Alliance brother) can control a whole game on their own, for a very simple reason : whenever one of their special abilities is activated, you have to make TARGET OPPONENT draw a card, gain life, put a token into play…Which means that with a little diplomatic skills, you can manage to get in a situation when no one dares to attack you, while the players who desperately need your support to stay in the game are ready to do anything for you. He, He… Looks interesting. Let’s see how to capitalize on the Hippos’ powers :

“Hippolitix” V.1.0

4 Questing Pheldagriff
1 Pheldagriff
1 Spike Feeder
1 Yavimaya Elder

1 Rhystic study
1 Congregate
4 Fact Or Fiction
4 Arcane Denial
4 Oath of druids
2 Gaea ’s Blessing
3 Enlightened Tutor
4 Fellwar Stone
3 Seal Of Cleansing
4 Swords to Plowshares

4 Savannah
4 Tropical Island
4 Tundra
4 Island
4 Plains
4 Forest

Trampled underfoot

Let’s look at some of the cards in detail. Obviously, the elder and feeder are there to take advantage of the Oath engine (which works very well since the hippos enable you to control who can use it), but are also good and cheap early game creatures. Arcane Denials are here to provide a little defence in the first turns as well, but mainly to protect your Oaths and prevent devastating spells such as Armageddon from wrecking your plans. Note that even these counterspells fit the theme perfectly : you counter a spell, but you also give some sort of compensation to the player who tried to cast it. Swords to Plowshares work in the same way. Fact Or Fiction works at its best in this deck : if you have some hippos on the table and if one of your opponent desperately needs life points, cards or creatures, chances are he will make 5/0 piles… Rhystic Study is often key in the early and end game : not only can this card grant you multiple cards early, but it also enables you to put some pressure on your opponents (more on this later). Congregate can obviously be huge given the number of creatures that will see play given to the Oath/hippo token synergy. Finally, the tutors, Fellwar Stones, seals and blessings ensure the machine will run smoothly.

Allied strategy

Now we come to the main interest of the deck : it is a political one.

The first few turns are usually a bit slow, as you are trying to set up your mana base, your oath engine, maybe some early card advantage. Remember that you will never have too much mana sources : having lots of mana open is often key to using your hippos’ abilities to their best. Once you have one or two hippos out and some lands on the board, there comes the observation phase. You probably don’t want to be the one to open hostilities : instead stay on your guards, try to secure a few alliances by, for instance, letting those who are light on lands draw a few extra cards. Be sure that this help will be rewarded, though : treachery is a very nasty habit, particularly when you are its victim, so be very clear that the first one who will try some nasty trick on you will be the first one out. Once you are pretty sure of your strength, you may then proceed to attack someone. Be very careful about your target, though : choose only an opponent who has stupidly tried to attack you early in the game, or who has tried to destroy your Oath, etc… If nobody has dared to fight you at that point, play your Rhystic Study and make it clear that the first one to prevent you from drawing those extra cards you desperately need will be considered as an enemy. Fact or fiction can be used to the same purpose. In the hypothetical case when nobody wants to attack you, just keep cycling feeders to make really huge hippos, and once a few players have been eliminated and you have your four Arcane Denials in hand, just make one big attack phase to take out all the remaining players.

If you know your Machiavel by heart (and you should if you decide to play this deck), you can also manage to stall the game long enough to deck your opponents : if you feel you are safe from whatever spell a player may have in his deck (for example, some kind of pure red deck), just let him draw lots of cards through hippos. With a little help from your hippos, this card advantage should allow him to take out several opponents, and combined with the oath this should be enough to deck him while you keep recurring your library. But this would be pure sadism : which red deck can resist an army of pro-red hippos ?

Variations on the same theme

There are of course several interesting cards that have been left out of the deck : Misdirection, Crater Hellion, Spike weaver… just to name a few. Just remember that a card like the Hellion, which at first glance seems to be perfect in this deck, taking out all opposing creatures while your pro-red hippos survive, does not fit into the theme : you don’t want to be oathing it out in the early game at a time when you need a hippo just to kill two creatures and then have all other players instantly gathering to kill you. Trust me : you do not need the Hellion, and after a few games you will see that it does not belong to the deck. Misdirection would certainly be good here, but it is a bit expensive and I could not fit it into the list. You can always play one : it will occasionally be very helpful and will keep your opponents wondering.

To me, the biggest problem with the deck is that there should be more copies of some cards such as blessing or Congregate in it. I leave it up to you, but you can always cut on the tutors, seals or the Yavimaya Elder.

Houston ? We got a problem

This deck has some difficulties handling a few widely played cards. With only four counterspells, you may not be able to stop every threat to your strategy, but there is one solution : make friend with a blue player. He will probably be very happy to be able to oath his Morphlings out and get a few extra cards… Here are a few cards that can be troublesome :

Swords to Plowshares : it is a white spell AND it removes creatures from the game. Only the Alliances hippo can survive it, so it may be a bit of a problem, especially if there are several players using it on the table (and if you see one sword in the early game, chances are that player has three other copies in his deck, so be careful not to let him draw too many cards).

Armageddon : like any control deck, this one does not like ‘geddon too much. Fellwar stones are not enough to prevent this spell from giving you serious headaches. Counter it and try to keep some lands in hand if you suspect it.

Hull breach, Tranquillity and other enchantment removal : Well, these are the spells that will almost always slip through. You will not be able to counter them all, and anyway you may want to save your denials for more important threats. Destroying your oath if you already have one or two hippos on the board is not that bad : you have lots of way to draw another, so think twice about countering such spells, you may regret it later.

Play it again, Sam

If you enjoy playing this deck, you will want to play it regularly. If you do so, follow my advice : hold your word. If your opponents know that you aren’t reliable, that you often forget your promises and that you are not a good ally, the deck will lose some of its strength, not to mention its fun. If you know you can safely trade a few tokens for a five-card Fact Or Fiction, you’ll be better off in the long run. If you have chosen an ally in the early game, stick to it, and wait until the game is down to you two before attacking him. Remember : those who are having some difficulties are your best friends, and the deck has the potential to help an ally get back from a desperate situation to a dominant one (which deck couldn’t with free chump blockers, extra life and huge card advantage ?).

An important thing : if you are losing, try to make sure that the player who kills you will be the next one out. If you die with a hippo and some mana on the table, this should not be too hard.

There are thousands of way to play this deck, it is strong and fun, and it will help you practise your diplomatic skills. I just hope you will have some fun games with it !

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