To the surprise of no one (except, mayhap, for the ghost of Richard Garfield) not one but two Companions from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths have been banned in Eternal formats before the cards were even in the hands of cardboard tabletop players. Lurrus? One of the first things that the astute hot taker identified was that it was very, very, good with Black Lotus. But poor Zirda? The Elemental Fox took the ban hammer like Storm Breaker to the chest - then head - of a Mad Titan. Zirda? It's not that we hardly knew you; we knew you not at all.
Okay, Companions then!
They're here; they're getting banned almost before they're in print. Certainly they're making waves in regular old formats without infinite artifact mana engines, too. Rather than hash how Yorion and Keruga are jockeying strangleholds on Standard, I thought it would be fun to look at how some of the other Companions are being played, and in what - sometimes surprising - contexts. Or as the great Kurt Vonnegut once wrote:
Borrowing for Obosh, the Preypiercer
Obosh Red | IKO Standard | _LSN_, 3rd Place Standard Challenge 5/17/2020
- Companion (1)
- 1 Obosh, the Preypiercer
- Creatures (27)
- 3 Phoenix of Ash
- 4 Anax, Hardened in the Forge
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 4 Fervent Champion
- 4 Grim Initiate
- 4 Scorch Spitter
- 4 Tin Street Dodger
- Instants (3)
- 3 Shock
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Light Up the Stage
- Artifacts (4)
- 4 Heraldic Banner
Early on - isn't it weird to think of an "early on" - in Ikoria Standard, it didn't look like Mono-Red was going to find a suitable Companion.
That position has changed dramatically, with the vast majority of Red Deck-builds over the last week adopting templates similar to the one _LSN_ used to exel in the recent Standard Challenge. The key features of this build are (of course) all odd casting costs, and this three in particular:
Heraldic Banner is surprisingly potent in this build. The deck _LSN_ fielded plays a lot of cheapies like Tin-Street Dodger. Putting an additional power on a creature that can't easily be blocked can really add up if you're working toward a burn finish; or just Obosh itself.
But where this card really excels is in the ability to jump three back down to one. You can use your third turn to play a quasi-Crusade but still leave up Shock mana; activate the dodge on the Tin-Street Dodger, or catapult somewhere between 2-6 extra damage into the Red Zone by adding an extra-buffed Javier Dominguez.
All of that is besides the ability to go three-into-five for a turn four Obosh, the Preypiercer (if that's what you're into).
I think there are reasonable incentives to playing Obosh in the Red Deck; because what other Companion are you going to play? But this build isn't the only possible one; and it's hardly authoritarian. I think a different version with odd mana burn spells like Slaying Fire and even Risk Factor (which has such glorious synergy with Phoenix of Ash) might be worth exploring. And it goes without saying that for the Red Deck to adopt Obosh - or any Companion at all - requires more bending over backward than most archetypes. Basically all its best - or at least defining - cards are getting passed over for their even, pip-intensive, casting costs. Think: Runaway Steam-Kin; Robber of the Rich; Torbran, Thane of Red Fell; and Embercleave.
Still, a "free" and reliable 3/5 Overrun is a seductive incentive; and like I said up top: The winning Red Decks all seem to be Obosh decks.
Actually Playing with Kaheera, the Orphanguard
My conception of a Kaheera deck before this week was largely a sixty-card Yorion deck if that makes any sense. Like, "I'm going to play a Jeskai Control deck; I'm just going to get my creatures from Shark Typhoon anyway, so I suppose I can can mize this free Companion" sort of people.
Then I saw this beaut:
Gruul Fires | IKO Standard | Bielzito, 5-0 MTGO Standard League
- Companion (1)
- 1 Kaheera, the Orphanguard
- Creatures (22)
- 2 Keruga, the Macrosage
- 3 Cavalier of Flame
- 3 Gemrazer
- 3 Quartzwood Crasher
- 3 Questing Beast
- 4 Arboreal Grazer
- 4 Shifting Ceratops
- Lands (28)
- 6 Mountain
- 8 Forest
- 2 Ketria Triome
- 2 Temple of Abandon
- 3 Fabled Passage
- 3 Bonders' Enclave
- 4 Stomping Ground
I'm not even sure if the cooler part of this deck is Keruga, the Macrosage in non-Companion main deck action; or the triple Quartzwood Crashers. I mean, if you're not going to pay for your cards anyway?
I like how this deck actually uses Kaheera as a creature and a Crusade and wide wall of aggressive blockers... Rather than as a squinty-winking cantrip like in Jeskai Control (though you really do have to respect that implementation, too). But really? I think with the sea change in the Red Decks I'm just happy to see such a clever angle on Embercleave.
Cheating on Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Lurrus is a Red card. Specifically a Red Aggro card; though it's seeing play in both Burn decks and Prowess decks (not to mention its short-lived career re-buying Black Lotus). We've seen "mono" Red Decks playing White mana just to accommodate Lurrus out of the side. Inevitably we'll see Black-Red decks that use Lurrus the same way, but running Bump in the NIght and maybe even Sedge Scorpion exploring a whole different take on Red Decks.
So it's kind of weird to see Lurrus in an actual White deck, isn't it?
Mono-White Auras | IKO Standard | 11_and_me, 7th Place Standard Challenge 5/17/2020
- Companion (1)
- 1 Lurrus of the Dream-Den
- Enchantments (18)
- 2 Sentinel's Mark
- 4 All That Glitters
- 4 Glaring Aegis
- 4 Sentinel's Eyes
- 4 Solid Footing
This deck is surprisingly nuanced for a kind of all-in White Weenie build. It's got a serious life gain sub-theme. Not only does Lurrus have lifelink, but three different classes of other main deck creatures do, too.
And it's not only that: They can gain a LOT of life! Slap enough auras on a Healer's Hawk and it's going to act more like a Baneslayer Angel. You can also get in for lethal with this deck. Alseid of Life's Bounty is hyper-synergistic with Lurrus of the Dream-Den specifically in this context.
Imagine you have someone big; someone who wants to attack for lethal... But the only problem is that the opponent has two different colors of blockers! Oh no! Don't sweat it. Just sacrifice Alseid of Life's Bounty to give it Protection from X; re-buy with Lurrus, dial up a little Protection from Y? All in a day's work for only three mana. It' almost feels like cheating.
But there is REAL cheating afoot!
Lurrus may have been cheating on Red Decks with its inclusion in this highly tactical White Weenie deck, but there is a hot little "technically legal" workaround going on here. And by that I mean:
X is very technically under Lurrus's umbrella from a deck-building standpoint... And also very definitely outside the so-called Spirit of the Law. Oh well:
Besides being potentially bigger than Lurrus's intended playmates; besides being potentially much bigger as a mid-game re-buy; Stonecoil Serpent is just a fantastic threat in the context of the Standard format. It dodges Teferi, Time Raveler; shrugs off Deafening Clarion; and perhaps more important than either, runs right past each and every Companion you know - you just know - the other guy is packing.
Remembering Gyruda, Doom of Depths
I'll be honest with you.
What I actually wanted to write this week as a mini primer on playing against the Gyruda, Doom of Depths combo deck. But Gyruda hasn't placed in more than a week! It was last seen in a top finish back on 5/10; which, for a set that hasn't officially been printed yet, seems already like ancient history.
Gyruda Bant | IKO Standard | Phil_Hellmuth, 13th Place Standard Challenge
- Companion (1)
- 1 Gyruda, Doom of Depths
- Creatures (23)
- 1 End-Raze Forerunners
- 1 Kogla, the Titan Ape
- 2 Thassa, Deep-Dwelling
- 3 Gyruda, Doom of Depths
- 4 Charming Prince
- 4 Dream Eater
- 4 Paradise Druid
- 4 Spark Double
- Instants (4)
- 4 Growth Spiral
- Sorceries (2)
- 2 Migration Path
- Enchantments (4)
- 4 Wolfwillow Haven
- Lands (27)
- 1 Plains
- 4 Forest
- 5 Island
- 2 Hallowed Fountain
- 3 Fabled Passage
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Temple Garden
- 4 Temple of Mystery
But having mentioned some of the more recent (and admittedly, in some cases cooler) Companions of the last week or so, here are three principles and play patterns that will help you overcome Standard's least favorite 6-drop.
- Even though the core plan of the Gyruda, Doom of Depths deck is about accumulating a ton of power on the battlefield, don't underestimate their ability to win an exhaustion war. You will have to assume as a baseline that they are going to accelerate into the first Gyruda, and over the course of almost any game that actually goes to exhaustion, will play at least all four. At least! Every time Gyruda, Doom of Depths hits the battlefield, they Mill you for four. You have to at least understand that to begin with. Because if you're helping them along by drawing or cycling extra cards yourself... you might just deck.
- This deck is still mostly about accumulating a ton of power on the battlefield. It's flashy. It can go big. Not only will its 6/5 or 6/6 be the biggest creature on the table... It can simultaneously go wide! Yet outside of the odd God? You can Wrath their face.
- Even though they play Spark Double and Thassa, Deep-Dwelling, the Gyruda villains only have four actual copies of their deck defining Companion in total. Sometimes they even Mill them! What does this mean? If you pay attention to how many copies of Gyruda, Doom of Depths are already in the graveyard, you can play strategically around their remaining copies. Without specifically Gyruda for a catalyst, this isn't just a big creature deck... It's not a particularly efficient one.