Well, it happened.
This past Monday was the big day, and there were numerous changes to nearly every format... by way of the companions seeing a sweeping change to how their ability works. Let's take a look at what was said in this week's Banned and Restricted announcement.
If you couldn't tell, this is a huge change. Adding to the cost of companions essentially means that you aren't going to be "drawing them" and casting them on the same turn. This has a few advantages. The first is that it allows you to interact with them a bit while they're in the opponent's hand, whether that entails being able to discard them, or neutering some of the permanents and zones they may interact with. Another advantage is that you get to plan around them entering the battlefield a bit better. If your opponent spends turn three putting their companion into their hand, you can reasonably assume they plan on casting it on turn four if able.
The fact that you can only use this ability at sorcery speed is also pretty great, as it means that you can't keep up a counterspell or removal, only to "draw" your companion at the end of the turn instead. This is another measure to keep the companions fair, which doesn't seem like it was necessarily the goal to begin with when it came to companions.
I actually think this is a great change. If decks still want to utilize having an extra card, now they simply have to pay for it. Will Yorion still dominate Standard? Probably not. Will it be worth it at some later point in the game to pay an extra 3 mana for a 4/5 flier? For sure. The fact that the cards are no longer free in a mana sense means that a lot more planning has to go into when you want to cast them. No longer can you ramp into something like Gyruda, Doom of Depths on turn four. Now you have to actually commit a turn to when you're going to remove him from exile, which is a lot less oppressive for your opponents.
I honestly think this may be the last time we talk about companions at length for some time. While it's unfortunate that some of the more fair companions are now less playable due to the added "activation" cost, it's really not elegant or practical to only add the cost to some of the creatures. If you're changing the way the ability itself works, it's very all or none. As I've mentioned in the past, one of the things you try to limit in game design for paper products is the amount of "tracking" you have to do on cards, and this would require a good amount of that.
Standard Is on Fire... Or Rather, It Was?
There was another huge change that took place in Standard (and Historic, but... meh) that had nothing to do with the companions. It seems that there's sincerely no end in sight to how many cards we can ban in Standard, and after today's announcement, we're currently at six. That's a ridiculous number that hasn't been seen for nearly 20 years. Think about that. If I'm not mistaken, 2005 was the last time we saw more than six cards banned at one time, and to be fair, six of those were the artifact lands, so does that even count?
On the brightside, a while back, Play Design Lead Bryan Hawley had the following to say after Oko was unleashed:
This comment, along with a similar Tweet that was made, is basically telling us that there was an era of Magic design in the past couple years, that was meant to push Standard to a higher power level. I think we can all agree the experiment failed. Unfortunately, the two cards that were banned today are remnants of that design era, and we don't know how many more sets were impacted by the philosophy (since Magic sets are designed months to years in advance) before they caught their mistake.
Agent of Treachery is Banned
Agent of Treachery had to go, plain and simple. There were not only numerous ways to get the card into play early, from Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast to Winota, Joiner of Forces, but there were also ways to keep blinking the card and getting multiple uses out of it from something like Yorion, Sky Nomad. Remember Sower of Temptation? Boy, that was a much more fair version of Agent of Treachery. I don't even have to get into the "draw three cards" part, because even without that the card is extremely strong.
The closest comparison to Agent is something like Confiscate or Take Possession, both of which do the same thing as Agent, only they are enchantments that allow you to get your permanent back if you can deal with them, don't also provide a 2/3 body, and don't let you draw three cards if you meet a specific criteria. While Agent looks unassuming at 7 mana, it was anything but once people started finding ways not to pay 7 mana. Keep in mind that neither Winota nor Lukka could cheat an In Bolas's Clutches into play, and that card, which has the same ability for one less mana, saw virtually no play. Being a creature makes all the difference.
Fires of Invention is Banned
Fires of Invention was a card I actually enjoyed quite a bit, because it let me play other fun cards like the Ultimatums and Niv-Mizzet Reborn. I always loved seeing what I could fit into a Fires deck, because the card basically let you play whatever cards or colors you wanted, presuming you had enough lands in play to do so. Well, some people were doing less savory things with the card, and this is why we can't have nice things.
All in all, the things Fires of Invention does aren't fair, and the two cards that were banned this go around were banned because of mana reduction: Fires of Invention gives you excess mana and Agent of Treachery was put into play without paying mana. I don't know how else to communicate to Wizards that letting cards double your mana or halve the cost of your spells is never good for the game, because they simply never seem to get it. Ever.
Ultimately, I'm fine with both of these cards going as neither one of them was being used in any fair capacity, and there are plenty of formats for shenanigans like that to take place that aren't Standard.
Future Cards to Look Out For
Moving forward, there are still a few cards that could become extremely problematic. I think these are a few of those that we really need to keep an eye on.
Winona, Joiner of Forces
This card is as good as whatever it's cheating into play. It used to be Agent of Treachery, but moving forward, this basically puts a cap on the kind of humans that can be found in Standard. Let's hope nothing too busted shows up in the next few sets or so.
This is a card that's shockingly similar to Fires of Invention. They're both four-mana enchantments that double the amount of mana you get each turn. Fires takes your five lands, for example, and gives you 10 mana worth of equity. Wilderness does the same. The cards have their differences, but both are letting you cheat on the amount of mana you have, and again, Reclamation is a card that's as good as the best spell you can cast with it, in this case that's likely Expansion // Explosion.
Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast
Just like Winota, this card is as strong as the cards it can cheat into play. It's already seeing fringe play in Modern as a way to get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play. A card that Polymorphs into a guaranteed bigger creature is great, because it lets you play actual creatures in your deck without fear of hitting something the same size or smaller. And this allows that activation twice. Just like Winota, it's another card that limits the possible cards that can be printed in the next couple years.
Once again, thank you all for reading. I really appreciate you, and I hope you're all staying safe. Every week, the world feels like it becomes a little more dangerous. I'd love to hear your thoughts about the bannings in the comments, so let me know what you think below, and be sure to use promo code FRANK5 to get 5% off your purchases!