We Need to Talk About Companions

On April 25, a Super Pioneer PTQ was held, the first major Pioneer event since the release of Ikoria, and the results, while not shocking, are still boggling. The decklists and standings can be found here, while the event was won by Lotus Breach, the top 32 breakdown comes out to seven Sram Auras, six W/U Devotion, four Lotus Breach, three Boros Burn, two Simic Gyruda, and then a single list of each of the following; Sultai Delirium, Jeskai Fires, Dimir Inverter, 5 Color Niv, Golgari Scales, W/B Enchantments, U/W Superfriends, U/W Heroic, R/W Heroic, and Mono Red Obosh.

The top 22 lists were X-2 going into the top 8, 19 of which played a companion with the other three being Lotus Breach. Of the companions that were played, there were two who stood out as the dominant ones; Yorion, Sky Nomad, and Lurrus, of the Dream Den. When companions were first spoiled, it was a time of revolution in the world of Magic. Now, we have to ask if they’ve broken the game.

Companions: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Companions on paper seem outstanding. You gain a lot out of packing one, even with the restrictions they put on you, they add a layer of customization, and force you to play Magic in ways that you wouldn’t normally, or at least that’s the idea of them. They also add a certain consistency, always having access to this specific card throughout the course of a game keeps your options open, making it harder to get backed into a corner. Companions are a really cool piece of design space that I’m excited they’re exploring, but I think they got a couple of things wrong.

First of all, I would like to point at Lurrus, of the Dream Den. The restriction doesn’t really apply, as Sram Auras played an extremely low curve to begin with, he simply gives you an insane recursion engine for free.

Yorion on the other hand, does come with a real restriction that decks have to build around, and seeing some of the lists that have come out of it is amazing. It’s always great seeing decks with more than 60 cards doing well, and in Yorion’s case, I believe the drawback is significant enough to warrant the power offered, a good balance of the two.

While talking about those two companions however, I can’t help but look at Jegantha, the Wellspring, and Lutri, the Spellchaser. Both of these companions have a pretty hefty restriction, and neither of their rewards seem to justify it. This I think is where the companion mechanic went wrong, they didn’t properly balance the ten companions.

Following the 10 Companions

From the PTQ results, I can extrapolate a couple of things. First, if you’re not playing a companion, you’d better be doing something absurd, Lotus Breach is a good example of this. They’re not restricting their deck to a companion, and for good reason, they’ve got a lot better things they can be doing instead. The issue with this, is because the companions are improperly balanced, it puts a huge weight on the color combinations that can’t play the best companions.

Because of this, the format is sure to warp, and we’re now witnessing the beginning stages of it. I’m not saying the format is breaking, only warping. Sram Auras is obviously extremely powerful, while U/W Devotion and Lotus Breach seem to step up to the game, so the format will surely warp around those three decks. The decks that are excellent, and the decks that beat them.
But, this is how Magic has been for as long as I can remember, formats have an adjusting period when a new set release, and most of the time there is one or two decks that are obvious outliers in the formats. So how do we tell if this is just the new hotness, or an actual game breaking mechanic? The difference is the permanent implications of companions.

Companion is different from a lot of other would-be game breakers, as it’s not just jamming four copies in your deck and sometimes not drawing it; you’re going to get the opportunity to cast your companion every game that you have the mana to. Granted, you only get one cast out of it, but with powerhouses like Lurrus, that won’t matter because he’s a two for zero to start, and only gets better every turn he sticks.

Fixing Without Banning

I think companions are an excellent idea, but have been relatively poorly executed on their first go about, which is expected. What I would love to see is them not ban a companion at all, but continue adding to the companion pool, adjusting power levels where needed. If they can get a relatively even power level across a lot of different color combinations, they could easily re-balance these formats.

I feel they missed an extremely large opportunity by not adding wedge aligned companions however. Three colored cards are intentionally pushed to make up for the cost of casting them, and a three colored companion could have some cool abilities and restrictions. The worst thing Wizards could do in my opinion is give up on companions. As I’ve said before, it is a really cool piece of unexplored design space, and they can only help themselves by moving forward with it. Some early mistakes have been made, but they are fixable.

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