Updated: Aug 13, 2020
Hello everyone! Today I’d like to discuss a rather controversial topic today: companions. We’ve all talked about them to death in just about every axis available. At least, however, in terms of constructed. Today, I’d like to talk about how companions fit into Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths limited to find out if they’re truly the menace to all Magic: the Gathering formats. We’ll discuss the difficulty of achieving the companion requirements are for each one and what their benefits and downsides to make them your companion. In order to quantify that, I’ll be using a number system from 1-5 to help convey my points, with 1 a difficult companion with minimal payoff and 5 being easy to do with a huge boost. Each companion will be discussed as such:
· Companion difficulty
Now before we begin, I’d like to get this out of the way: each companion is great if put into the main deck. If you took the companion mechanic out of all 10 cards, they would all be fantastic includes to any limited deck in terms of their stats and what they can do for their costs. The fact that they are all have hybrid mana in their casting costs means that they are much more versatile and are worth considering in your deck. If you find one pack three, pick one and one of its colors fits your deck, take it and I promise you won’t regret it.
So here we have the menace of Standard right here. It’s no secret that Yorion is an excellent card for constructed and was designed to see play in all the standard pro-tours (yes, I know they’re called “Magicfests” now and no, I don’t care; they will always be GPs and pro-tours to me). On a surface level, this is the easiest companion to work with, as you don’t have to dedicate picks to make it work; all you have to do to use Yorion as your companion is bump up the minimum deck size by 20. In limited, this means that your deck must be at least 60 cards and can be made up of whatever you want. For this reason, this card is the most doable as a companion and receives high marks here.
Yorion’s ETB ability allows you to flicker any number of nonland permanents. This is an incredible ability for many different cards and can have multiple benefits. At its worst, Yorion can allow you to swing out with your board and can leave the survivors up to defend the next turn by just flickering all your tapped creatures. However, Yorion is at its best when flickering permanents with ETBs by giving you a vehicle to trigger them all again. Furthermore, it can act as a way to remove enchantment-based removal spells like Pacifism or Capture Sphere by making them fall off when your creature is exiled, allowing them to be primed and ready once again.
While Yorion has a lot of upside, this companion is definitely the most complex in terms of its downsides stemming from the nature of the concept of limited gameplay in two ways: consistency and sideboarding. The reason Yorion is so successful in constructed is that his restriction isn’t really relevant. To paraphrase an episode of The Main Phase, all players do is just bump up all important cards to full playsets to mitigate the consistency issue playing 80 cards brings with it. Additionally, the sideboard is mostly intact during this, as Yorion only takes up one slot. This is not the case in limited. In a draft, the maximum amount of nonland cards you can hope to use is around 45 cards. In a normal draft, you would then take about half of those cards you picked to construct a 40-card deck with your picks and lands provided from another source, typically the store you’re playing at. The rest of the cards you didn’t use are part of your sideboard that you can pull from in games 2 and 3. Yorion, however, forces you to play at least 60 cards, meaning that your deck building is more limited. For starters, you probably need to increase the land count to around 24 to make sure you get the mana you need consistently, meaning you will need 36 nonland cards, leaving 9 left for your sideboard (including Yorion). This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, you are extremely unlikely to have a playset of anything. The way draft packs are designed is to give you options on what to pick that appear at various frequencies. It’ll be near-impossible to pick up a lot of a certain uncommon due to it being just that: uncommon. If you wanted your deck to be more consistent, that would mean you would need to laser focus on a couple of commons instead of rounding out better threats and removal. This becomes further problematic by the fact that there’s no guarantee you’ll see the same commons in a pack. This means that your deck will be much more inconsistent and you have a higher chance of never pulling what you need in a game. Secondly, putting that many nonland cards means you’ll probably have to put in several mediocre or bad cards to make the number work. It’s quite common to pick up off-color or undesirably cards at the end of a pack, as they are the leftovers no one wanted. In a normal draft, these don’t feel too bad because you don’t really have to play them; they’ll just hang out in your sideboard forever. For Yorion, however, there’s a higher likelihood you’ll be forced to play these bad cards just to make the minimal cut. This will weaken the overall power of your deck as there may be times you’ll draw the bad cards when you really need a removal spell to do something to the board state. Finally, there’s the lack of sideboard problem. With a maximum of about 8 cards to pull from, you’ll be much more limited in how to respond to what your opponent is doing. Additionally, playing so many cards may leave only the off-color or truly abhorrent cards left, leaving you without a sideboard at all.
In conclusion, Yorion is incredibly easy to make your companion on the surface level with an easy requirement and a pretty good payoff with just about no downside. However, there can be a lot to lose in terms of deck consistency and the lack of sideboard that can weigh the deck down as a whole. With all of these measure, Yorion, Sky Nomad receives a 3.5/5. Just beware of inconsistencies and try to benefit from ETBs as much as possible.
Good old Gyrados over here is the most expensive of the companions and, in my opinion, the worst in limited by far. The deck building requirement here is to only have cards with even converted mana costs. This is not strictly impossible to do and all it does is just require you to look at the numbers first. However, due to the random nature of packs, it may be a bit challenging to get to those points. This is because there’s no guarantee that there will be good cards with even converted mana costs, forcing you to pick sub-optimal cards. Additionally, there’s the threat that it may make your colors go all over the place to meet this requirement. While you’ll be able to sift through it all once the drafting is done, it’s an important point to note during deck construction.
Gyruda isn’t all bad, though, as it has a good ETB effect. Once it hits the battlefield, you and your opponent mill the top 4 cards of your library and you get to pick one creature card with an even converted mana cost from them and put in onto the battlefield under your control regardless of who owns it. So if you mill something nice, you essentially get to freecast it. Please note, though, that it only counts the cards you milled as part of the ETB, not the entire graveyards.
However, here in lies the main problem with Gyruda: randomness. Let’s run through a scenario with Gyruda: say you’re running some kind of sultai mutate deck with Gyruda as your companion. You play him and both you and your opponent mill the top four cards and you hit a Chittering Harvester! For 6 mana, you got 2 bodies on the board for a combined power of 10. That’s pretty good! What’s more is that you got your opponent’s main bomb into their yard, so you’re doing pretty great! Game two hits and you cast Gyruda again. This time, however, you only get a Glimmerbell and your opponent just milled a bunch of lands and one-drops. Hitting something so small isn’t the best, but hey, at least you got something, right? When game three comes along and when you cast your companion, you see that you hit absolutely nothing from your deck and you get a Checkpoint Officer from your opponent, which you can’t activate it’s ability. This highlights the main weakness of Gyruda as your companion in that you literally have no idea what you’ll end up with. While yes, you could get something really big and powerful, there also exists a chance that you’ll end up with something unplayable and useless on the current board state. This is mitigated when you build your deck to improve your odds of hitting something, but the chance will always remain that you just mill lands and noncreatures and get nothing for all your troubles.
Gyruda is an very good creature with impressive stats, a flexible mana cost, and a potentially powerful ETB. However, the fact remains that it is very difficult to get his companion requirements going and has a high chance of whiffing when you need him most. Because of this, I rate him a 1/5. Play him in your main deck as a good top end.
The star of the Ikoria trailer itself, Obosh has the exact opposite requirements as Gyruda: your deck can only have odd converted mana costs. This makes him just as hard as the previous creature to pilot as a companion. However, where Obosh shines is in its static ability. Often, limited matches become hard stalemates as nothing can get through without trading off or straight-up dying. Obosh’s double damage effect can end those stalemates if you build around it by forcing your opponent to at least trade off much more frequently. Furthermore, any tricks hurt that much more if you can get them going, making them much more worthwhile. Obosh’s main problem comes from the fact that it’s a creature and can be removed relatively easy. Once it’s gone from the battlefield, your creatures return to normal and you’re back at square one. However, it dodges Blade Banish while enchantment-based removal doesn’t stop his ability, making the only real threats to him Blood Curdle or Ram Through with a big enough creature, which any creature has problems with. Because of this, the only real downside is the companion requirement, giving Obosh a solid 3/5. I’ve personally never gotten him off as the companion, but please let me know if you have and if it’s worked out for you!
Here we have probably the oddest of the companions in my opinion. Jegantha’s companion requirements are very easy to pull off, as all you have to do is make sure no mana symbols repeat themselves. The biggest drawback for deck building is that this prevents you from playing certain cycles like the allied keyword bonders and the ultimatums, along with possibly other powerful cards. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that it only has one colored mana symbol, which is hybrid Gruul. This makes him the easiest to put into anything, as it doesn’t require anything but a simple splash to be incorporated. What stops Jegantha short is its lack of payoffs, which is also the biggest drawback. The only thing this companion does is act as a fidgety mana dork with a big body. While it doesn’t really hurt to have a mana dork available to cast spells, the fact that its mana can’t be used to pay generic costs hampers it a bit. However, Jegantha doesn’t really have any other drawbacks, as it can just be an efficient vanilla creature to beat face if you really need one. The companion requirement is fairly minimal and incorporating a splash for it in any deck is very easy. While it doesn’t bring much to the table in terms of abilities, the big stats are good enough reason for consideration and give it a rating of 4.5/5. Heck, one time an opponent stuck a Mystic Subdual onto it and Jegantha still clobbered them as a 3/5.
Kaheera is another relatively easy creature to companion, as all you have to do is forgo all humans and stick with all its listed creature types. And wouldn’t you know it, they’re all Ikoria’s monster clades, making the set full of them! Loosing access to humans can hurt due to how many playable ones there are in the set, but the amount of allowable creatures in Kaheera’s requirement make it easier to pilot than on first glance. Like Obosh, Kaheera has a static ability that lords over all its creature types and give them vigilance. Vigilance is a lot better in limited than constructed due to the relevance of creatures, so giving everything that keyword while also being a lord should not be overestimated. The main downside to running Kaheera is just how fragile it is. This companion is very weak to a lot of removal and may not stay on the battlefield for long. Furthermore, while being a lord is great, the fact that it only pumps by one may not allow you to swing into too many more situations, as your opponent’s board may just be too strong to overcome. Don’t take this the wrong way, though; Kaheera can be a great companion to your deck and, if built right, will take it over the top, earning it a 4/5 on my scale.
So here we have WotC’s latest broken legendary that’s so powerful it had to be banned in Vintage (I’m seriously never going to get over that). However, the idea that Lurrus is better the deeper the card pool couldn’t be more true. While yes, it was banned in Legacy and Vintage and is causing problems in Modern, Pioneer and Standard haven’t been too affected by Lurrus (unless there’s some deck I don’t know). In Ikoria limited, the companion requirement is a huge challenge and may be the hardest to pull off. The set was designed in a normal fashion and has cards of all converted mana costs to build regular limited decks, making your picks for low-cost permanents harder and harder as a pack goes on.
With this large restriction, however, comes an immense payoff for doing so: recursion. The ability to play something out of your graveyard once a turn is insanely powerful if you can get the right stuff in there. This can include both creatures and, probably more importantly, enchantments, specifically Pacifism and Dead Weight. This can allow your army to keep growing or at least just keep attacking, as Lurrus can let you recast it to block later on. The downside to this, though, is that restriction again. It can’t be argued that it’s hard to win off of one and two-drop creatures (Blazing Volley probably wrecks your day). While it’s nice to be able to recur your stuff, it don’t do much good to run against a giant Archipelagore or Rooting Moloch every turn in a suicide blitz. The enchantment-based removal can help there (especially Dead Weight), but the fact that you’re limited by that is what makes this deck so difficult to run in limited. The only place where this is mitigated is the cycling deck, which can become just as sufficient as the constructed version if the start align for it. Otherwise, Lurrus gets a 2/5 for limited.
Introducing the bomberman of Legacy! Zirda’s requirement is very specific in only wanting a specific type of permanent in the deck. This restriction is real, as there aren’t that many cards in the set with activated abilities; if fact, the majority of permanents with this requirement have the cycling mechanic. That’s where this card shines the most, as it can decrease your cycling costs to get your payoffs more consistently. The payoff for that deck is immense and seems to be what was in mind when designing Zirda. However, there are diminishing returns when looking at other decks. You may not have enough creatures or other permanents in your deck to make Zirda worthwhile or to even make the companion happen. This is especially true considering that this ability doesn’t lower mutate costs, as that is an alternate casting cost and not an activated ability. In a cycling deck, this is a solid 4/5 that can help you get to your threats early on. For everything else, it’s a 1/5, as it’s extremely likely you won’t even get to there. It does seem like WotC knew this going into it, however, as its other ability works great in any deck, so I’d much more recommend to put in in your main deck.
Here we have another case of opposites, this time with Lurrus: Keruga requires you to play only 3 CMC cards and up for it to be your companion. Unlike Lurrus, this is much easier to pull off due to the lesser restriction. This set, as well as most others, has a lot of 3 CMC cards in it at all rarities, so you’re unlikely to run out of gas considering Keruga when building your deck. The payoff is also extremely powerful, as you can draw a metric ton of cards in the right board-state. Even if you only have two other permanents under the restriction on the battlefield upon ETB, you’re drawing 3 cards off of a creature! Even if you don’t have a board presence and you cast Keruga, which is the fail-case, you get a very large body that cantrips, which is a very good deal. Where a Keruga companion deck might fail is in its early game, given that it has none. This hurts a lot when going second, as it gives your opponent time to establish themselves before you can put a defense. This is especially bad going against a hyper aggressive deck and can leave you dead before you can do anything. However, Ikoria doesn’t really have that kind of deck, with the most aggressive ones not having that type of pressure. Additionally, in you’re on the play or once you can start hitting spells, your hand will be loaded with punishment, as your handicap will fizzle as the game progresses. I strongly recommend Keruga and give it a 4.5/5.
Commander’s favorite otter here has an incredibly easy requirement for you to go singleton save for lands. While this a tall order to most constructed formats for what it does to consistency, this isn’t that bad of an ask in limited, where you’ll mostly be doing this anyway. There will be situations, however, where you may have to ask yourself if you want to cut multiples of playables in favor of Lutri’s ability. This means you will have to assess the worth of your duplicate playables compared to your instants and sorceries. If you need those duplicates to win the game, prioritize them; if you have powerful spells and/or are really close to the requirement anyway by one, companion Lutri. This feeds into the payoff of running Lutri: spell copying. This can be very flexible in what you get out of it, as you can bounce multiple creatures or maybe even burn out an opponent’s board. There was even an instance where I copied a Cathartic Reunion and drew 6 cards while only discarding 2! (They proceeded to by 5 lands, but hey, at least it felt good to do!)
The biggest drawback comes from an age-old Magic problem: available mana. Even though you don’t have to pay for the copy of the spell, you still have to pay Lutri’s casting cost to get it online. This means that this is only something you can do in the mid to late game where you have all the mana you need. My earlier story cost my 5 mana, for example, making that copy actually cost more mana-wise. This means you can probably forget about casting more expensive spells like the ultimatums or something. All combined, Lutri has the lowest floor in terms of what it can do but is one of the simpler companions to use. Because of that, it gets a 3/5. It can be fun to draw 6 cards in a turn or something but be careful in cutting playables.
So here we are at the end of our companion journey with Umori here, which is actually the companion I’ve gotten the most! Like Kaheera before, Umori’s requirement is a bit of a challenge requiring you to only have one card type. Trust me when I say you can forget ever getting this to work with anything other than creatures, as the support is just not there. Even with the prevalence of creatures, getting the companion requirements off is a challenge, so be prepared to make do with some mediocre creatures if you go for it. The payoff for doing so, however, is a cost reduction of one of all the chosen card type. This can allow you to power out more in a turn or leave up more mana for activated abilities. However, the issue with running Umori is how it leaves you without removal. You will definitely miss all of your other spells once the board gets cluttered up and all you can do is just add to the mess. The only real deck where this is mitigated is in the mutate deck, which can turn your creatures into removal assuming they don’t get blown up. The downside is extremely real and I can only give Umori here a 2/5.
There are all 10 companions in Ikoria and how they are ranked! The main buzz has been about them in constructed, but, as you can hopefully see, they don’t ruin limited that much. Do I hope to see this mechanic return? Absolutely not. In terms of constructed, this was a fiasco and Magic was better off without them. I appreciate them doing new things and testing the waters, but I really don’t like seeing them that much in everything else. But at least we got an elemental otter. I’ll catch y’all later!