Last updated on August 7, 2023
Lurrus of the Dream-Den | Illustration by Slawomir Maniak
The companion mechanic was introduced in 2020 with Ikoria, and it made big waves in Magic. The mechanic was incredibly strong, with companion decks quickly cropping up and often dominating multiple formats.
The mechanic needed an errata that fundamentally changed how you played with them, but even that wasn’t enough to save multiple companions from the all-powerful ban hammer. All 10 are here, so won’t you join me as we examine companions?
What Are Companions in MTG?
Yorion, Sky Nomad | Illustration by Steven Belledin
The companions are a cycle of 10 multicolored legendary creatures printed in Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths with the companion mechanic. Each color pair has one companion whose casting cost includes at least one hybrid mana of the represented color pair.
The companion mechanic allows you to add a companion to your sideboard and reveal it if your starting deck meets the conditions printed on the card. You can pay at any time you could cast a sorcery to put your companion into your hand from outside the game. It works like a regular card from there.
One of the most important parts of my rankings here is the ease of meeting the companion requirements. Some of them are relatively simple to the point they’ve been banned, while others are incredibly stringent and hard to build around. That said, having a companion is very powerful and none of these are bad cards.
#10. Umori, the Collector
Starting off cordial with the friendliest slime in Magic! I have a soft spot for Umori, the Collector simply because of how adorable the art is. Unfortunately the card doesn’t quite hold up to the art’s appeal.
Umori is a powerful card, despite being lower on the list. A 4-mana 4/5 is overstated, and it nets you a pretty significant mana discount. Each of your spells costing one less adds up quickly over the course of a game.
But this companion restriction is a bit too stringent. There’s some flexibility; an artifact creature, a creature land, and a creature can all share a creature type, so you can play one of each and still meet the requirements. But you’re still restricted to a single card type. A creature deck loses access to valuable interaction; an instant- or sorcery-only deck is unlikely to work since most spellslinger payoffs are creatures or enchantments.
There’s a world where Umori becomes the companion to an artifact-based deck that uses the companion as a Helm of Awakening effect, but this is ultimately the weakest companion due to its high barrier to entry.
#9. Keruga, the Macrosage
Keruga, the Macrosage suffers from a similar issue to Umori. Playing only spells with a mana value of 3 or higher is a massive drawback and can put you really far behind, especially if you lose the die roll.
The restriction doesn’t make Keruga wholly unplayable. Some Modern decks have used it as a companion since split cards like Fire // Ice count their combined casting costs, making them a spell with a mana value of four that you can cast for two mana. Similarly, adventure cards like Brazen Borrower and Bonecrusher Giant only count the creature for their mana value.
That said, these narrow cases are still highly restrictive. You get lots of reactive plays, but it’s hard to build a proactive gameplan when most of your cards don’t do much until turn three and beyond. It also makes it far harder to double-spell.
As a companion, Keruga offers really good value. The potential card draw is worth quite a lot, and you can build around the restriction. That restriction is still too demanding for this hippo to get too high on the rankings.
#8. Zirda, the Dawnwaker
Zirda, the Dawnwaker offers an engaging challenge in its deckbuilding. Since its companion requirements only count permanents, you can comfortably surround your cards with instants and sorceries for interaction, which was one of the biggest flaws with Umori.
Cost reduction for activated abilities makes this feel like a potential companion to a combo-esque deck using Training Grounds effects to enable a busted combo with cards like Kenrith, the Returned King. In fact, pairing Zirda with Grim Monolith was powerful enough to get it banned in Legacy.
The main drawbacks of this card come from severely limiting the kinds of permanents you can play, and it’s not much but a cost reducer. Preventing creatures from blocking can close a game but offers little value without board presence.
Zirda makes for an excellent combo enabler and can also be a lot of fun in Commander as the companion to an equipment deck loaded with cards with powerful effects but expensive equip costs. Imagine equipping the Sword cycle for one mana instead of two!
#7. Lutri, the Spellchaser
Lutri, the Spellchaser is one of the more famous companions since it was preemptively banned in Commander before Ikoria even hit shelves.
Outside of Magic’s most popular format, this is a harsh restriction. Only one of each card forces you to play cards you might not otherwise because they’re too expensive or clunky. When you can’t play four Counterspells, you need some number of Disallows.
Lutri does see some play in Pioneer as the companion to a blue-red control list that suffers from awkward card choices based on this restriction. Lutri is a free companion in Commander and Cube but can be limited in formats without a deep card pool or tutors. You have to hope the consistency you give up gets offset by the value of beginning every game with a Dualcaster Mage in hand.
#6. Gyruda, Doom of Depths
Gyruda, Doom of Depths may be the companion I’ve tried to make work the most. Only playing even spells is a fascinating restriction. You still have access to some powerful tools, and netting a free creature is loads of fun.
That said, this is incredibly slow. It takes nine mana over several turns to land your 6/6 and hopefully a second creature. There’s an unfortunate miss rate since Gyruda only takes creatures from the milled cards, and it’s hard to set up without cards like Telling Time.
While slow, Gyruda offers a compelling amount of board presence. They can also make a strong commander rather than a companion because you can do some interesting things with all the 4-mana Clone effects and a Mirror Box.
#5. Obosh, the Preypiercer
Gyruda’s opposite must be Obosh, the Preypiercer. Only playing odd-costed cards is a less pressing constraint than even-costed cards because you get access to some really efficient spells. There’s a world of difference between having Lightning Bolt versus Lightning Strike in your removal suite.
Or burn suite, since burn is where Obosh thrives. This hellion sees some fringe play in Modern and Pioneer accompanying flavors of red aggro. It presents a lot of pressure since Red Deck Wins typically keep the curve as low as possible. Goblin Guide, Soul-Scar Mage, and Monastery Swiftspear are among the best cards for the deck anyway, so Obosh doesn’t restrict that strategy much.
While Obosh is still slow as an 8-mana investment in an aggro deck, it gives those strategies something to do in a grindy matchup or with a hand that’s drawn a few extra lands. Unlike the other expensive companions we’ve looked at, Obosh also provides plenty of pressure and closes games quickly. It’ll often double your attacking power the turn you play it without additional mana investment and turns most burn spells lethal.
#4. Kaheera, the Orphanguard
Kaheera, the Orphanguard is one of the companions you see more often in Constructed formats. It gives Omnath, Locus of Creation piles a companion that buffs the team and gives them something to do with their mana.
Much more interestingly, you’ll see Kaheera in the sideboard of white control decks that meet the companion requirement by not playing any creatures. I first saw this tech in Modern and must admit I love it. It’s a clever way of playing the card.
It’s also useful in those controlling decks. It gives them some board presence, either as a blocker against an aggressive deck or a beat stick in a game they’ve already taken control of. It gets even more useful in post-board games as your opponents often board out most, if not all, of their creature removal against the creatureless deck.
This versatility helps Kaheera come close to the top of the list. It also gives you a reason to play some pretty creative tribal decks like cat or nightmare for fringe but exciting deckbuilding ideas.
#3. Jegantha, the Wellspring
The top three starts with Jegantha, the Wellspring. Jegantha might be the most versatile companion given how easily you can meet its companion requirements. You can even companion Jegantha in Limited fairly easily.
The universality makes it a bit weaker than some of the other companions overall. A 5-mana 5/5 that taps for mana is nothing to sneeze at, but not nearly as impressive as doubling spells or damage.
Jegantha is the pinnacle of a card with a high floor and low ceiling. One place you’ll often find Jegantha is in Modern Tron lists that are practically colorless decks, with the exception of a few key pieces like Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying. You can also find this majestic elk sprinkled throughout plenty of multicolor lists in Modern and Pioneer, from sacrifice decks to Bring to Light list. Some Modern Jund () decks have even adapted to companion Jegantha for an extra edge.
There are also plenty of opportunities to use Jegantha in Commander. It has a 5-color color identity, but you can get lots of mileage from this card with commanders like Jodah, the Unifier or Sisay, Weatherlight Captain that either cost or have an activated ability that costs .
#2. Yorion, Sky Nomad
Another of the banned commanders, Yorion, Sky Nomad has a companion requirement I’ve always wanted to meet in Cube but often fall short of. Yorion was the premiere companion for 4-color Modern decks revolving around Omnath, Locus of Creation until it was banned, mostly because of the deck’s rising popularity, but also dexterity issues giving the high amount of shuffling in a format full of fetch lands.
Yorion’s companion requirements give decks a similar weakness to Lutri in that it waters down the odds of finding your best cards. It’s not nearly as restrictive because you can just play more cards. If your concern is that 80 cards make it hard to find your four Path to Exiles, you can add three Swords to Plowshares‘ to help make up for it.
Yorion has also changed how some players build decks. Even in a post-banning world, you’ll still play against 80-card Modern decks that are basically just the Yorion shell without Yorion. It’s an effective strategy since those lists are full of cantrips to help find important pieces. It’s also a shell that doesn’t really want to draw its basics; Wrenn and Six and Omnath, Locus of Creation decks are far happier playing a bundle of fetch lands than they are drawing Triomes naturally.
Yorion sees play in other formats even with the banning. It sees play in Legacy alongside Death & Taxes lists that can minimize the inconsistency with tutors like Stoneforge Mystic and Recruiter of the Guard. It also sees a smattering of play in Pioneer decks, usually with Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Fires of Invention.
#1. Lurrus of the Dream-Den
What could top the list but the most banned companion, unplayable in Modern, Legacy, Explorer, and Pioneer? I have fond memories of playing Stand Rogues with Lurrus of the Dream-Den as my companion, and I understand why it’s banned in most formats.
It seems like only running permanents with a mana value of two or less would be incredibly restrictive, but that matters less and less in eternal formats. The farther back you go, the more efficient cards become from necessity. If most of your creatures already cost one or two mana, as is the case in many decks like Delver, where’s the restriction?
This doesn’t even begin to get into what Lurrus could do in a combo or artifacts deck with cards like Mishra's Bauble and Lotus Petal that put themselves in the graveyard or are interested in getting artifacts in the graveyard.
This companion is even busted in Limited. You can do a lot in March of the Machine Draft with Lurrus and a Scorn-Blade Berserker, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Admittedly this isn’t the easiest companion to use in Commander since the format almost necessitates playing some big cards, but this can be lethal in the 99.
What Are the Rules for Companions?
As long as your starting deck meets the companion requirements listed on a companion card, you can have it in your sideboard and reveal it as your companion at the start of the game. You’ll reveal your companion before hands are drawn and mulligans resolved. This is information you open with.
You can only have one companion at a time, even if your starting deck meets the requirements for multiple companions, but you can change companions between games. For example, if you had an 80-card deck that only had cards with no more than one mana symbol in their mana cost, you could reveal Yorion, Sky Nomad as your companion in game 1, then reveal Jegantha, the Wellspring as your companion for post-sideboard games.
Your starting deck can also have up to three copies of your companion in the main deck as long as it still meets the companion requirements. The only companions currently printed that don’t meet their own requirements are Umori, the Collector (if you pick any type but creature as your deck type) and Lurrus of the Dream-Den. You can only have one other copy of Lutri, the Spellchaser in your starting deck if you want to companion it.
Speaking of sideboarding, your deck still has to meet companion requirements after sideboarding. You can side in cards that would make your companion invalid. For example, a Lutri, the Spellchaser deck could add four Aether Gusts to their deck in sideboarding, they just can't reveal Lutri as a companion after sideboarding. You can also sideboard your companion into your main deck during sideboarding. If it’s in your main deck, you can’t reveal it at the start of the game.
Once you’re in the game, you can pay to put your companion into your hand from outside the game any time you could activate a sorcery. This was an errata from shortly after the companion mechanic was introduced. Paying the counts as a special action that doesn’t use the stack and can’t be responded to. You retain priority the entire time.
After you’ve paid , the companion works like a normal card. You can cast it from your hand by paying its mana cost, your opponent can Thoughtseize it, and so on. If it would change zones by being killed, exiled, etc., it doesn’t return to your sideboard or anything. It just goes into the appropriate zone. You should keep your companion in a sleeve that matches the rest of your deck in case it gets tucked by something like a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Best Companion Payoffs
The companion itself is the payoff to running a companion. The strength of the mechanic comes from card advantage and guaranteed access.
Starting a game with a companion basically means you’re starting the game with an 8-card hand to your opponent’s 7. One card might not seem like a huge difference, but one card is often all it takes to win a game of Magic. Any Limited player who has taken a hard mulligan can tell you how much one card matters.
You also always have your companion. If you’ve leapt through all the hoops of companioning Obosh, the Preypiercer in your burn deck, you don’t want to worry about not drawing your build-around card. Since you always get access to at least one copy of your companion, you’ll always get paid off for meeting the requirements unless your opponent has interaction.
How Does Companion Work in Commander?
Most companions work normally in Commander, including paying the and so on. Companions don’t go to your commander zone, and they also have to fall within your commander's color identity.
Companions also include your commander as part of your starting deck. This means you can’t use Gyruda, Doom of Depths as your companion in a deck where your commander has an odd mana value, even if all the cards in your main deck have an even mana value.
The 100-card deck size doesn’t include your companion. Your companion is a 101st card that exists outside the game until you bring it into your hand.
Do Companions Add to Color Identity?
Companions do not add to your color identity; only your commander defines your color identity. Your companion must also be within the color identity of your commander, so an Izzet () deck can’t companion Obosh, the Preypiercer.
What Companions Can I Use in Commander?
Your starting deck in Commander can’t exceed 100 cards, so you can’t use Yorion, Sky Nomad as your companion because you can never have a legal 120-card deck in the format.
Lutri, the Spellchaser can’t be played in Commander because it’s banned. It was preemptively banned by the Rules Committee, citing concerns that it would become ubiquitous in any blue-red-X deck given the format’s singleton nature, which gives those decks an extra card for free without any deckbuilding costs or restrictions.
What Are the Best Companions in Commander?
Jegantha, the Wellspring is the best companion in Commander. Despite only being played in 5-color decks, it’s incredibly strong in them. There are plenty of powerful cards to play without multiple mana symbols, and it’s powerful with commanders that cost or have a cost of like Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Jodah, Archmage Eternal.
Another companion to keep an eye on in Commander is Obosh, the Preypiercer. Doubling damage is super strong, and it gives an added layer of redundancy to decks already running this effect in the mainboard.
Umori, the Collector | Illustration by Jehan Choo
Was the companion mechanic a mistake? Maybe. It was certainly a broken mechanic that led to a mechanic-wide errata that wasn’t enough to keep multiple companions from being banned in multiple formats. But I still love it dearly because I liked seeing Wizards swing for the fences.
Companion is an interesting concept that explores a new facet of design space. It might not have gone well, but I’d like to see similar mechanics that push what Magic cards can do.
What’s your favorite companion? Do you think Lutri should have been banned in Commander? Let me know in the comments below, or join the discussion over in the Draftsim Discord.
Next time, bring a friend!
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