Last updated on October 30, 2020
Lutri, the Spellchaser | Illustration by Lie Setiawan
With Ikoria, we saw the introduction of the companion mechanic. These creatures (specifically, the companion ability) requires you to follow additional deck building rules which restrict how your deck is built. The benefit? Having access to a companion creature that can be cast once from the sideboard.
The companion mechanic is heavily inspired by the Commander (EDH) format, where (in case you’ve been living under a rock) players have access to a legendary minion—their commander—who lives in a special “exile” zone outside of their deck. They’re a general of sorts which the deck is built around and all cards are restricted to the commander’s colors.
Kaheera, the Orphanguard | Illustration by Ryan Pancoast
Companions are… problematic. We saw a complete meta upheaval in every format with the power of these cards being undeniable, forcing Wizards’ to ban some in their formats (Lutri in commander, Lurrus in Legacy & Vintage, Zirda in Legacy) before implementing a complete errata of the mechanic after some troubling meta representations across the board.
List of Companions: A Gallery
Official Rules for Companion
From the Comprehensive Rules (June 1, 2020—Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths)
A keyword ability that allows a player to choose one creature card from outside the game as a companion if the restriction of that card’s companion ability is met. Once a player has chosen a companion, that player may pay to put it into their hand once during the game. See rule 702.138, “Companion.”
- 702.138a Companion is a keyword ability that functions outside the game. It’s written as “Companion—[Condition].” Before the game begins, you may reveal one card you own from outside the game with a companion ability whose condition is fulfilled by your starting deck. (See rule 103.1b.) Once during the game, any time you have priority and the stack is empty, but only during a main phase of your turn, you may pay and put that card into your hand. This is a special action that doesn’t use the stack (see rule 116.2g). This is a change from previous rules.
- 702.138b If a companion ability refers to your starting deck, it refers to your deck after you’ve set aside any sideboard cards. In a Commander game, this is also before you’ve set aside your commander.
- 702.138c Once you take the special action and put the card with companion into your hand, it remains in the game until the game ends.
- 103.1b If a player wishes to reveal a card with a companion ability that they own from outside the game, they may do so after setting aside their sideboard. A player may reveal no more than one card this way, and may do so only if their deck fulfills the condition of that card’s companion ability. (See rule 702.138, “Companion.”)
- 116.2g A player who has chosen a companion may pay to put that card from outside the game into their hand. This is a special action. A player can take this action any time they have priority and the stack is empty during a main phase of their turn, but only if they haven’t done so yet this game. (See rule 702.138, “Companion.”)
Zirda, the Dawnwaker | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing
The Companion’s Reception
Initial response from the community was mixed, as early speculation and discussions on companion’s power level were wide and varied from “unplayable” to “the best cards ever printed.” Now that things have settled and we had some time with the cards, we can see that no format (Pauper doesn’t count) escaped the influence of these format-shaping, meta-defining cards.
With the errata of the mechanic, we’ve seen their representation drop quite a bit, although the impact this has had on companions is kind of asymmetrical. Slower decks usually choose to keep their companion since the downside is comparably minimal.
This is particularly true with Jegantha and Yorion, as decks featuring them can either get them as a “free-roll” or the extra mana doesn’t impact the speed of utilization in the same way the cheaper companions need to play on-curve.
Jegantha, the Wellspring | Illustration by Chris Rahn
Learning from the Past
The mechanic itself seems incredibly challenging to balance for Standard, let alone in any other format. Considering Ikoria isn’t the marquee set for this block, many players are rightfully concerned about power creep. If we cast our eyes back to Wizards’ article on play design from November 2019, Oko, Thief of Crowns was expressed as the exception and not the rule.
“We do a great deal of playtesting, and we are ultimately responsible for the power level of cards, but the result of any playtesting needs to be choosing what power level things should be.”Bryan Hawley, Wizards of the Coast
It’s quotes like these which leave me feeling conflicted. As an example, I believe that if Lurrus was a 0/2 without lifelink, he’d see almost as much play. The mechanic itself (having access to an extra card) is what makes it just so damn good in every format. With the changes, though, only the top two or three will ever be legitimate contenders for use as a companion.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
There are plenty of hate cards that hit the mechanic directly (or indirectly). One such card was Drannith Magistrate, printed alongside the companions in Ikoria. Drannith was the perfect hate-bear to stop any companion shenanigans prior to the errata, provided you could cast and stick it.
Wizards’ philosophy around errata leans towards providing additional clarity and simplicity, but the mechanical change for companions is extremely cumbersome and just about the opposite of what they’re usually going for.
A Format Review
Lurrus completely dominated this format prior to his banning. With the changes, Yorion stands as the lone survivor making an appearance in 3 to 4% of the meta.
We reached out to our friend Dougal from Green Sun’s Zenith, a prominent site for the maverick deck archetype in the Legacy format. He’s an all-around Legacy fiend and has been quite vocal on how companions are affecting the format:
“Magic, and especially the Legacy format has always (IMO) been a rock, paper, scissors meta. You can play deck A because it has a great matchup against B decks but you’re going to have a tough time against C decks. Likewise you can play C decks because they beat up on A decks but lose out to B decks.”
“Companions completely changed that landscape, to a Meta where you play companion decks, or you play the only non-companion deck that beats them. Nothing else.”Dougal Warby
Modern managed to keep an extremely diverse meta throughout the last month, despite companions appearing in 40% of decks at its peak. Post-errata we can see that, much like legacy, Yorion is the lone survivor.
Yorion, Sky Nomad | Illustration by Steven Belledin
Pioneer saw huge changes in the meta thanks to companions. Lotus Breach, a very popular deck in the format, gained access to Lurrus, while Inverter/Oracle remained the only major deck without companion representation.
Yorion and Lurrus hold onto spots within the meta, with Jeskai superfriends being a fun take on what is essentially the now-banned deck from Standard using Fires, Yorion, and Lukka. Mono white devotion has remained strong throughout with Yorion at the helm.
Standard doesn’t buck the trend post-errata, with Lurrus and Yorion being the only companions with any representation. Temur Reclamation is dominating the post-Agent, post-Fires, post-companion-errata meta. It was a tier 1 deck before Ikoria and now it can do even more things to stop Teferi with access to Shark Typhoon.
Keruga, the Macrosage | Illustration by Dan Scott
Yorion is my favorite as far as design space, as it seems to be a more “fair” approach to the mechanic. Any deck sporting him has the official deck building restriction of an 80-card minimum with a soft restriction that there must be some form of ETB or reason to flicker permanents in order to gain any value beyond an eighth card in hand (which is still awesome).
I think companions were a super fun inclusion to Standard, but I can’t see Wizards ever printing any more. The universal outcry of eternal format players was loud and continuous, and now only two of the cards appear to be playable with the rest basically devolving to memes post-errata. We could of course, be proven wrong, but it’s a fairly safe bet to assume the experiments with companion are over.
Umori, the Collector | Illustration by Jehan Choo