First time I assessed Companions for cube, I didn’t really do a good job. I quickly slapped an S grade on Lutri and proclaimed the rest to be not worth playing. A few weeks later, and now that Companion has taken over every single format including the limited set that they are a part of, I realized that I misevaluated these cards. I understood they were powerful but I didn’t personally like the idea of them in cube, and I did not have the energy to really write about them after finishing up a whole set review. I’ve realized my mistake, and would instead like to give them the proper time and attention that they deserve with a whole article analyzing how to maximize each of these companions when building your cube.
Should You Play Companion?
Before we move on any further, we have to discuss what playing companion cards means for a cube. These cards are the perfect example of build around cards, and will always be a part of any game they are featured in. Build around cards can be a lot of fun, and many of these cards ask you to go to extreme lengths to play them. Some of my favorite cards include Birthing Pod and Wildfire, but require a high density of similar effects to be playable such as Vannifar, and Burning of Xinye. Companions are a one card archetype which makes for a really tight package that can do cool things.
There are downsides for including these cards, however. When a deck that has a companion pairs against someone without a companion they are at a disadvantage before the game has even begun. This imbalance is fine in some cubes, and isn’t much different from a Black Lotus, but in more balanced cubes nobody wants to be at a disadvantage. Fortunately for cube, we can do what WotC won’t and change the rules so that companion requires you to replace a card in your starting hand. Another downside to consider is the potential lack of variety in gameplay, but that is up to your group to decide if that’s a negative.
Companions, as they are, can largely be added to cubes without much changing. But for the purposes of this article I want to assume that we are actively changing the cube to better design for these cards. Building a cube from the ground up with companion in mind may help identify cards that would work really well with the build arounds, and may also highlight some easy additions that normal cubes can make to maximize these cards. With all of that out of the way, let’s begin!
The restriction of only having even cmc cards in a deck is a pretty steep one, but the payoff can be huge. Getting to 2 for 1 as soon as you hit six mana is nice, and there are a lot of great targets that one can hit off of Gyruda. Griselbrand is easily the best hit, but adding a few clone effects can go a long way towards getting a good hit. Grave Titan means you’ll have 16 power, Wurmcoil is gas, and Craterhoof Behemoth could just kill them given the right board state. Even a lower cmc hit such as Solemn Simulacrum is still valuable, and you can always steal your opponents card.
Gyruda doesn’t translate as well to a high power environment as other companions will. Even cmc locks you out of many cards and there is a real possibility you’ll whiff. Even though this is a top tier bomb in limited, and can immediately end the game when cast in constructed, it’s much harder to maximize this in cube. Gyruda will tend to end up either in control decks or combo decks. With all the Doom Blade variants, you can control the board pretty well and finish them off with a 6/6 plus value. A combo version would be more difficult to assemble, but reanimator/ramp could be feasible given that at 6 mana you’ll always get something great.
Where Gyruda was hard to build around but offers a lot, Jegantha is on the complete other end of the spectrum. It is extremely easy to add to your deck, and will require only a few cuts but isn’t very powerful as a result. Most of the time when you play Jegantha, it’ll be a vanilla 5/5 for five, which is still powerful if it’s the eighth card in your hand. To maximize Jegantha, you’ll want to play it in a 5 color deck.
Supporting a 5 color deck isn’t as easy as just saying it’s there. You’ll want a multitude of lands (maybe even doubling up on fetchlands), rocks that tap for colors instead of colorless, and payoffs that encourage people to move into the archetype. Jegantha is very clear about the archetype it wants, but cards like Bring to Light, and Kenrith, Returned King can draw people in. If you really want to go deep, you could also play three color bombs such as Nicol Bolas, Maelstrom Wanderer, and more although these are pretty narrow cards that will only see play in specific decks.
Out of all the companions, none ask to change the status quo quite as much as Kaheera. But, if the cube is built to maximize all of the companions there are a lot of great choices that a Kaheera deck can have. Brimaz, King of Oreskos is a one card combo and dinosaurs is already a fun tribe to support in lower power cubes. Doom Whisperer is a popular card that happens to be a nightmare, and Thragtusk is a beast. A surprising amount of cards people would consider cube staples have one of these creatures types, but if you want to go further than just the staples it requires a little more work.
Some cards such as Regal Caracal can replace others like Angel of Invention without much changing. Mesmeric Fiend can make a decent Kitesail Freebooter impersonation, and most Cavaliers are solid. Trying to support dinosaurs without depowering the cube can be hard, but it is possible. If I were to add Kaheera to a cube, I’d try to include minor tribal support in each of the various tribes (if it’s available and good) but otherwise I’d populate the cube appropriately and let the players navigate the environment. She’s not a strong payoff, but with so many creature types it can be easy to fit her. Or you can just play creatureless control.
Keruga is the companion that lets you start the game with effectively 3 to 4 more cards in hand, but you have to give up a lot of early game tempo to make the most of it. In cube this can be especially dangerous with a deck that opens on Goblin Guide. However, Magic is an old game and there are a plethora of ways to get around the cmc restriction that Keruga has.
One of the newest ways to skirt the issue is with Adventure cards. Brazen Borrower, Bonecrusher Giant, and Lovestruck Beast all interact with the board while keeping the total cmc of the deck in check. Other mechanics can get around this such as suspend, cycling, evoke, and probably even more mechanics I can’t think of. As a designer, however, I wouldn’t include too many cards that get around Keruga’s main drawback. Keruga is strong, and I want players to feel clever for getting around the mechanic, but too many and Keruga becomes too easy to draft around.
Lutri is the only companion on this list that can be added to decks truly for free. Unless your cube is not playing singleton, Lutri is just the 8th card for any blue or red deck. While she may not be the strongest card at her cmc, not having to work for her effect is powerful. Gyruda is going to be disgusting everytime it is cast, but there’s a real cost associated with Gyruda. Lutri is trivially easy to add, and just provides a small bump in value when you want to copy a Lightning Bolt or Serum Visions.
Being a 3 mana copy, once you get past two cmc it’s hard to effectively copy things. I initially thought she could copy your opponents spells, but the restriction of your own spells is still good upside. If you want to maximize Lutri, it’s important to have a lot of low cmc spells that do a lot of work. You can also include mana reducers to make bigger spells easier to copy, but as long as you have playable spells, Lutri will be a solid pick.
While Lurrus tears up eternal formats, I’ve been informed that he is also really powerful in limited as well. The restriction seems really bad at first, but many decks tend to get stronger when they eschew curving into higher cmcs and just play the most efficient cards. Cube happens to be filled to the brim with efficient cards, and many of these are win conditions by themselves.
Getting value off of Lurrus isn’t particularly hard, but maximizing this kitty takes a little more work. Permanent based removal spells combo really well with Lurrus, and anything that says “draw a card” is an easy way to outgrind many different decks. Bringing back Lurrus is also really important to keep the engine going, which makes cards like Unearth rank even higher.
Doubling damage for one side is incredibly powerful, and well worth building around. Odd cmc is also not as hard to build around as one would think. As we’ve seen in eternal formats, Llanowar Elves into Goblin Rabblemaster and eventually this can often take over a game by itself. If black aggro is supported a lot of your best cards are in the odd range anyways. And with this coming in the future, your opponents have to be extremely wary of any threat you present.
From what I’ve heard concerning Obosh, there are two lines of play with this card. First is to get it out as fast as possible, and kill the opponent as soon as it hits the board. This can be accomplished with token producers, going wide, or going tall on one big trample creature. The other line of play is to use Obosh as a way to stabilize, by doubling all of your creatures power it can be hard to swing in without trading. Then Obosh can crack back and potentially kill. Obosh is also really potent with Fireball effects as long as they are odd cmc when they resolve.
Umori, at face value, is pretty efficient. Always getting a 4/5 for four is a decent deal, but what Umori really brings to the table is getting to dump your hand the turn following this. There are likely to only be two types of decks that Umori will see play in, creature and artifact decks. Creature decks are easy enough to support and have this see play in, while artifact decks require a lot more work to become viable if you want Umori as your companion.
Looking at it in it’s most obvious home, Umori isn’t particularly exciting. It may not seem like it but you give up a lot playing only creatures. Interacting with your opponent becomes much harder (which increases the importance of spell based etb’s) and one Wrath can stop all of your progress. If you can get this out on turn 3, you are likely to run away with the game but they could just as easily kill the ooze before it gets a chance to shine.
The artifact version of Umori is more likely to do busted things, but it is much harder to build. Unless your cube has a high density artifact section, you may even try to draft an artifact Umori deck and fail. If you can get your Thran Dynamo to pay for itself though, you can ramp into huge cards like Myr Battlesphere way ahead of the curve. Outside of these two decks, it’s unlikely for Umori to work. If you manage to draft an Instant/Sorcery based deck, I’d love to see it.
I’ve seen people play 60 card cube decks without having a bonus to playing that many cards. Yorion is hardly a cost, and it’s payoff is absurd. Getting to flicker your entire board can let you run away with the game easily, and the downside isn’t that bad. I can’t just say that it isn’t a downside, however, as there do come some costs with playing Yorion. If you want to play a 3 or more color deck, you’ll have to play a lot more basics which can get you screwed on colors. Narrow cards such as Disenchant will be harder to find with such a big deck, but the idea is to be proactive enough that you won’t need those effects.
To maximize Yorion, all you need to do is play a lot of cards with good enter the battlefield effects. If it says draw a card, kill a creature, or do basically anything that is cubable it is going to be a strong effect. Yorion will probably end up being a fan favorite, because a lot of players loath cutting cards from their decks and Yorion gives them a reason not to. If you can also manage to bounce it back to your hand with Man-O’-War you get to ride the value train all day.
Out of all the companions, none seem as explicitly designed for cube as Zirda. With Basalt Monolith and Grim Monolith, Zirda can make infinite colorless mana. Sink it all into a Walking Ballista and move onto game 2. Besides the 1-2 punch that these cards offer, there are other effects that Zirda combos really well with.
The challenge with Zirda involves getting enough cards in the deck that fulfill the condition. Mana dorks, Planeswalkers, Equipment, and of course mana sinks all qualify. If you can’t manage to draft a deck with only activated abilities, you can supplement the rest of the deck with regular spells. Zirda is not hard to play, and is also not hard to break. Finally, Boros got a good card.