Last night was Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths night on Kendra’s stream. I’ll be honest here – none of the legendary creatures in Ikoria really appeal to my Commander senses. I considered playing a Brokkos, Apex of Forever or a Nethroi, Apex of Death deck, but I just couldn’t settle on a build I enjoyed. I then shifted my thought process to running a Companion. I almost ran a Pharika, God of Afflicition deck with Umori, the Collector as a Companion to attempt the all-enchantment challenge. Instead I decided to go for broke and build a Gyrus, Waker of Corpses deck with Obosh, the Preypiercer as a Companion.
The games were a delight and I won’t spoil them for you in case you want to watch them unfold yourself. Instead of talking about the deck I played, I want to talk about the process of building it and the give some overall thoughts on Companion itself.
Building this deck was capital ‘F’ Fun. I have a few ways I like to play Commander and even though Gyrus is firmly in my wheelhouse, I found myself choked off of a few cards I love to run. Instead I had to scour the options for cards that would meet Obosh’s condition. I relished in finding ways around the restriction and even though I missed some obvious inclusions – I somehow neglected Doubling Season – and came away pleased with the results. For someone who finds themselves falling into the “samey” trap, building towards a Companion was a fun way to flex tired muscles.
The payoff was middling. I cast Obosh once and while it doubled the damage it didn’t take place at a high impact moment in the game. I didn’t feel like I was at a significant advantage in Commander since the extra card was mitigated by a pretty hefty drawback, all things considered.
That being said, I’ve soured on Companions overall. I think they are great for non-competitive formats. For tournament play, however, I worry that they change something fundamental about how Magic works. Back when Arena was an in-store play program and not a digital platform, there were cards called Vanguard. These were oversized cards that gave you a global ability while also modifying your starting hand size and life total. Guess which ones were the best?
Magic is a game of resources and giving players additional resources at the start of a duel gives an inherent advantage. Not only do Companions incentivize players to build towards having one, they basically require all players to do so to maintain card economy parity. Compare Companions to Leylines.
Leylines come with a significant cost: they have to be in your starting hand. That means running enough copies to reasonably find one in your opening seven. While a Leyline is essentially cast “for free”, additional copies could be dead if found off the top. Companions have no such cost. They sit there as a single option, not eating a deck slot, waiting to be deployed.
I am not sad that Companions were printed. I think expanding what the game of Magic can do is vital to its continued growth and success. But I do think, at least with regards to the competitive sphere, that this mechanic was pushed too far. And I hope that the next two years of Standard (and non-rotating formats in perpetuity) aren’t dominated by cards from outside the game.