I just want to be clear that we're going to have to keep addressing companions for as long as companions are some of the most relevant cards in Magic. I don't like it any more than you do, but to pretend they aren't the most impactful thing going on right now - especially with no physical events happening due to Covid - is just disingenuous.
Last week, as we mentioned in last week's article, Wizard's made an announcement that there would be a Banned and Restricted update this past Monday. They also specified that the announcement would only cover Legacy, Vintage, and Brawl. While I admit that these three formats are not the most commonly played formats, these have definitely been some of the formats most impacted by - you guessed it - companions.
It's very possible to speculate why they aren't taking any action in the more popular formats just yet, but my own guess would simply be sales. And I don't blame them... yet. The set was just released on May 15th. That's less than a week ago from this article's publish date, and not only do I think it sets a terrible precedent for people opening packs that came out a mere three days before the announcement, to open a banned card (I'm looking at you, Throne of Eldraine), but it's also terrible for card sales.
Before moving forward, let's make something abundantly clear: Wizards of the Coast is a business. Their goal is to make money. The more money they make, the more employees they can hire to make Magic: The Gathering, and the longer the game can survive. Whenever I see people bemoaning "cash grabs" on something like Facebook or Twitter, I cringe. Not only do you not have to buy whatever you may consider a cash grab - seriously, no one is forcing you! It's shocking, I know - but every one of those products is putting money back into the game you love. I know and have worked with numerous Wizards of the Coast employees, and I know they love Magic dearly. Whenever someone accuses them of ruining the game to enhance their bottom line... well, I cringe at that too. It's an insulting premise.
But let's get back to the companions. There were cards banned in three formats this week, and they were all from Ikoria: Brawl, Legacy, and Vintage.
In Brawl we had a ban of both Drannith Magistrate and Winota, Joiner of Forces. These both actually make a lot of sense. Considering Brawl is basically Commander, Drannith Magistrate just seems like an unfun way of disallowing your opponents to actually cast their Commander. As far as Winota, that card also seems nuts. It's great in Standard, so being able to have access to it at any point you want seems very strong, especially if you can cast her on a turn where you plan to swing with a good number of non-Human creatures.
Legacy lost Zirda, the Dawnwaker and Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Everyone was expecting the latter, but the former had growing concerns about a combo with Grim Monolith. An infinite combo to be exact. Where you have one of the pieces available to you at the start of the game, every game, without fail, and it can never be discarded. Seems reasonable, right? Both of these being banned seemed extremely logical.
Ah, Vintage. The most busted Lurrus format of them all. Where, on turn one, you can cast your Black Lotus, cast Lurrus, then cast your Lotus again. Literally no one is wondering why this card was banned, but, to be clear, this was a surprising decision they had to make. One of the defining traits of Vintage is that " all cards are legal." This means that short of cards that promote gambling (ante), and cards that aren't "real" Magic cards (conspiracies, Unhinged, etc.), Vintage is a format that allows you to play every card you own. That's its purpose as a format. It has no banned list outside of the cards I mentioned. So to actually ban Lurrus is pretty shocking to me. The last "real" Magic card to be banned in Vintage was Shahrazad - which I think we can all agree is also not a real Magic card - back in 2007. It's just not something that happens. Ever. Because it quite literally goes against the spirit of the format. I personally think that's a huge testament to what a mistake the companions were, but maybe that's just me.
Let's talk about the non Vintage and Legacy formats for a second. Let's talk about a more accessible format like Pioneer. A format that they want to "wait and see" how things develop. On May 18th, the results of a League were posted and they look... well, grim, to be quite honest. You can find the results for yourself at this link, but let's take a look at them here and have a little chat.
There were 31 decks in the League, which is a damn good amount. More specifically, these are all the players that went 5-0 with their decks. Among those 31, guess how many weren't playing companions?
5? 10? Maybe half at 15?
One single deck out of 31 didn't have a companion. I don't know how to convince you that that isn't healthy if you don't see how it isn't. I'm going to add that if it were 30 decks with companions, and three of each companion were represented among the decks, I would still think this was a problem. This would tell me that the benefit companions provide is too valuable, and the drawback too small. It would tell me that not only will all decks likely have companions going forward, no matter which they may be, but the decks without companions are simply inherently disadvantaged and people don't have a reason not to simply cater their deck to having a companion.
But, dear reader, this was not a situation where three of every companion was represented. Not even close! The distribution from the event was as follows:
- 20 Yorion decks
- 6 Lurrus decks
- 2 Gyruda decks
- 1 Obosh deck
- 1 Zirda deck
- 1 non Companion deck
It's very cute that Gyruda, Obosh, and Zirda managed to make appearances, but can we please admit that Yorion is a problem? As I mentioned last week in my tirade about deck size, it is abundantly clear that simply adding 20 additional cards to your deck is meaningless when it comes to starting the game with a 4/5 one-time Brago in your "opening hand." Heck, even the Dimir Inverter deck was adding 20 extra cards simply to play Yorion, and this is a combo deck that wants to make sure it hits two very specific pieces. It added 20 cards. Traditionally combo decks would want to play things like Gitaxian Probe and Manamorphose, because they functionally make your deck smaller. These maniacs are adding 20 cards to their combo decks, simply because the value of a card like Yorion, Sky Nomad is too good.
I don't know, man. 30 companions out of 31 decks? This leaves me with two possible conclusions: either the companion decks are just so good and advantaged that they beat out all the other non-companions decks, or there simply were no non-companion decks. Which is even better?
The one reassuring thing in all of this? In the announcement, Ian Duke did say that they're monitoring the formats closely and that "we're willing to take steps up to or including changing how the companion mechanic works." I guess that's something, but if you can look at those Pioneer results and feel like cards like Lurrus and Yorion are healthy, we may just have different definitions.
Well, we've reached that time again, my dudes. Thank you all so much for reading, I love you guys, and be sure to drop down into the comments and leave me your deepest thoughts. I'm really curious once again about what you think about companions, especially after the most recent bans and announcement. You can also use promo code FRANK5 to get 5% off your purchase! Stay safe and I'll catch you all next week!