Commander Spotlight: Pygmy Hippo

As a two decade old, continent-spanning game, whose influence has been felt by thousands of gamers over the years, including those who may have never even played it, Magic has a long and illustrious career. In addition to birthing the entire concept of a trading card game, Magic: the Gathering went from a little known entity to being part of a corporate buyout to becoming one of the most ubiquitous names in the hobby. Beyond the game itself, Magic has seen its share of time on television between TV commercials and poker-like tournament coverage, as well as a couple dozen novels, three different computer or video game incarnations, its own board game (because why not go full meta), its own line of licensed merchandise, and a full length movie currently in development.

Yeah, it’s really become a Juggernaut all its own over the years, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down anytime soon.

That said, it would be silly to think that the game has been devoid of controversy over that time span. You don’t get to be this large over 22 years without upsetting people.

Many familiar with the longevity with the game can speak to some of the more notable flare-ups in its lifetime, such as:

  • early card volume mismanagement leading to the Revised List
  • the continued use of the Revised List today
  • the removal of demons and demonic references for several years due to outside pressure
  • poor development of the Urza block almost breaking the game
  • the Sixth Edition rules overhaul
  • the 8th edition border change
  • various Pro Tour cheating scandals
  • broken tournament cycles such as the Black Summer, the year of Affinity decks, or the era of Caw Blade
  • the creation of planeswalker cards and the entire Mending storyline
  • the creation of the mythic rare
  • the M10 rules overhaul
  • ignoring the game’s early artists in what little Wizards mentioned of the game’s 20th anniversary
  • the failures of Modern Masters to be accessible to casual players or affect the long-term cost on top-tier cards
  • repeated issues of counterfeited cards

All of these things being said, it should be heavily noted that Magic does a lot of things right. What’s more, while some of these aforementioned problems have been legitimate issues, none have manged to permanently damage the brand. Some items can be chalked up to players fearing change or the well-known propensity of Magic players to complain about any game alteration that they personally don’t agree with.

Another one of these lesser known controversies was what became known as the Grand Creature Type Update, a 2007 Oracle change coinciding with the release of the Lorwyn block and its tribal theme. This formalized the now-standard Race + Class scheme for creature types while retroactively adding or changing creature types on close to 1200 existing cards. Now, Priest of Titania wasn’t just an Elf but an Elf Druid, Ali From Cairo became a Human instead of, well “Ali-From-Cairo”, and a few remnant Paladins became Knights.

While many enjoyed the streamlining of many one-off creature types into something more cohesive, not everyone was a fan. Some cried havoc because of the introduction of Human as a playable type. Others didn’t like how the addition or changing of certain types made cards more or less powerful than they used to be. Mostly, many players just hated the idea of having to routinely check the errata of creatures to determine their new types. Wizards even admitted later on that this latter complaint was justified, and that although incredibly useful, they may have been wrong in doing the Update.

Yet another one for the footnotes.

But it wasn’t an apocalyptic scenario by any means. A Camel was still a Camel, a Brushwagg was still an…er…Brushwagg, and although the Narwhal type was changed to a Whale, they’re doing just fine swimming in the ocean, causing a commotion. (Coz they are so awesome)

In reality, the Grand Creature Update didn’t disrupt Magic’s creative legacy of having oddball creature types. The game still has its share of curiosities, including Walking Sponge, Spiny Starfish, Coalition Honor Guard, Rysorian Badger, Bubbling Beebles, and Joven’s Ferrets. We still have Nightmare Crabs, Mutant Yetis, Elk, Leeches, and Oysters. We held on to Deepwood Wolverine, and we kept a personal favorite of mine, Rabid Wombat. Heck, with the addition of Rabbit, Jackalope Herd sort of got even more awesome.

Oh, and we’ll always have the Homarids. Because Homarids.

Yes, plenty of creative creature types persisted, and more new ones are added every block. The spirit of unique creature incarnations isn’t going anywhere. So, we’re going to celebrate that fact this week.

For instance, did you know that Hippo was – and still is – a creature type?

Today we have: Pygmy Hippo

Pygmy Hippo

Name: Pygmy Hippo

Edition: Visions

Rarity: Rare

Focus: Mana Acceleration / Board Control

Highlights: When the majority of EDH players think of Hippos in Magic, their thoughts immediately go to the winged, purple, flying Phelddagrif – the epitome of strange Magic creatures. And yet, it is not technically a Hippo! Phelddagrif is so unique that it and its cousin have a creature type unto themselves. For general ol’ Hippo-ness, there are only two: Bull Hippo and this card.

Very much personifying the blend of Blue and Green, Pygmy Hippo does something very few creatures do: steal mana. Essentially a creature-based version of Drain Power, if Pygmy Hippo is not blocked it forces your opponent to tap all of their lands for mana. Then, in exchange for not dealing damage to them as a result, you instead so graciously receive that much colorless mana after combat. This creates a useful win-win situation when attacking, and since it’s a creature that can show up very early in the game, it can be quite advantageous. However, Pygmy Hippo not that long ago used to be even more potent.

That is, it’s far less likely nowadays to actually get the free mana since the elimination of mana burn, as the person you attack can simply tap out before blockers are declared and no longer suffer a penalty. Some would even argue that this fact alone doesn’t make it a viable EDH card anymore. They would be mistaken, however, as it is still possible to get the free mana with a little extra prodding.

Case in point: should a player tap themselves out, you then would still damage them as normal. You just have to make that number a little more imposing. Supersizing a Pygmy Hippo may make them think twice about whether they want you to have their mana pool or they want to take a large angry hippo to the skull.

Moreover, let it not be lost in the quest for free mana to point out that regardless of the circumstances, Pygmy Hippo has the capability to repeatedly tap a player’s land out completely, either forcing their hand at that moment or leaving them unable to respond to other players at the table until their next turn. In Commander games, this can be very useful for group dynamics if someone is being particularly problematic or as incentive to shift the focus to a more vulnerable player and away from you, for instance.

Sure, this paltry two mana 2/2 bear hippo has to actually be able to attack a player uncontested, but that’s just a matter of timing and opportunity. Hippos aren’t known for being terribly patient, but if you are, and time it correctly, the payoff is worth it regardless of which outcome you get.

Free damage or free mana. Plus, you get to play with a hippo.

That’s sort of a win-win-win, really.

Yes, Pygmy Hippo may be small, but it has the capability to generate some highly advantageous situations for you. And there’s little controversy in its usefulness here.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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