Thank You For Being A Friend: Ranking the Ikoria Companions

Darin Keener • April 14, 2020

It's always nice when a new set has something for everyone.

The Spikes will pretend that they don't really care about any of these cards until the meta is established, but they're lying. Multiple mythics are already preselling for almost $20 each, and a couple of them look poised to slot into the respective tier decks without blinking. The Timmys are jumping up and down, making monster silhouettes with their hands, and yelling "GODZILLLAAAAAAAA" at the top of their lungs.

And we Johnnies have Companions.

Companions are the ultimate Johnny cycle. They permit you to do something that has never existed in Standard before now: essentially have a "commander" that functions as the 61st card in your sixty-card deck and sits in your starting hand to be cast whenever you desire. This is an insanely powerful ability by itself. Even if you were getting an on-curve vanilla creature that had no ETB abilities, you'd sign up for a 61st card and an eight-card hand in a heartbeat. So you have to know that the drawbacks are going to make it not-so-comfortable to meld your entire deck to fit the Companion cost.

Starting Wednesday at the Arena Streamer Pre-Pre-Release event, I'm sure that people will be playing all ten of these as Companions to determine which ones are going to be worth building around. So I'm going to rank all ten Companions from worst to best by balancing what you're getting by having a Companion with what you're losing by building your deck to allow it. Fair warning: much like everyone else on the face of the earth, I have not played any games with these cards. I'm probably going to have at least two of the decks built for the event (with two of the higher-ranked Companions, of course), but I could miss wildly on what I think is good and what isn't.

10. Zirda, the Dawnwaker

My guess is that Zirda might have a home in EDH or an Eternal format, but I can't imagine it finding much Standard play. Requiring activated abilities on every nonland card is a really big ask. There isn't a deck in Standard that wants this right now, and I can't imagine a pile of new Standard cards suddenly coming together to make a deck. Maybe Mutate is truly strong enough to push Zirda to the forefront... but I doubt it.

9. Lutri, the Spellchaser

I feel really bad for the cutest little Elemental Otter ever printed on a Magic card, but I don't see it. He's already been banned in Commander, for goodness' sake! Poor little buddy. Someone give him a fish. But a Singleton deck is incredibly unwieldy, and getting one copied spell that your opponent will see coming a mile away is probably not worth it. We've had spell-copying effects and creatures in Standard for a few cycles now, and none of them have been top tier. But he's going to sell a lot of playmats, which is something.

8. Gyruda, Doom of Depths

Gyrada and his (his?) mirror image are probably going to be the most-attempted deck builds in the early going of Companions, and I think they're traps. Yes, UB wants a big honking creature at the top of a control curve as a win-condition. When it ETBs, you're going to get one creature out of eight cards (four of yours and four of your opponent), and because of your deck restriction it's pretty positive that you'll get a free creature out of the deal. But only being allowed to play even-numbered CMC cards is a HUGE drawback. Remember: your opponent will know that you're playing a Companion from the beginning of the game. So they know that you can't play anything on turn 1, and whatever you play on turn 3 and turn 5 can't be on curve. And if you have a tapland that you have to play on one of those turns? Yikes. I'm going to need a bit more than one free creature to exclude half of the cards that I want in my deck to play this six-drop when I could just play Liliana and be done with it.

7. Obosh, the Preypiercer

I could rewrite a pile of Gyruda's text for Obosh, and it would apply here as well. I'm guessing that Obosh will get more play in mono-red than RB, but mono-red is a deck that REALLY wants to curve out. They want to play lots of cards and go aggro. Obosh is probably better than Gyruda because Obosh allows all of the one-drops that an aggro deck would want and getting a wide board and dropping Obosh as your finisher is something that I could see working. But you can't play Torbran, Thane of Red Fell with it since it's 4 CMC. It's sad, really.

6. Keruga, the Macrosage

This is probably the easiest card to evaluate since it has an obvious use; namely, all of the Simic Ramp variations. If you're making a bunch of mana, then you don't much care about playing cards that have low CMCs. And if you can play this card on turn 5, you're hoping to draw a minimum of two cards when it enters the battlefield. But there are two things that make this rough to play beyond the obvious "you don't get to play anything on turns 1 and 2". First, no true "mana dorks" outside of maybe Faeburrow Elder, and wow was I wrong about that card. Second, no Growth Spiral. In fact, I had this ranked higher until I wrote this paragraph and talked myself out of it. The current deck is probably too good to even bother with this.

5. Jegantha, The Wellspring

This is the one that I'm probably the most wrong about. There are a few builds centered around Fires of Invention that don't play very many double-costed spells so it would make sense that Jegantha might do some work it as one of your two spells after your Fires turn and then use all of that mana to activate Kenrith, the Returned King or Cavalier of Flame triggers. The obvious card that desperately can use this mana ability is Golos, Tireless Pilgrim. If Golos can be the center of a Jegantha deck in Standard, then it's going to spring up this list in a hurry.

4.  Lurrus of the Dream-Den

At first glance, only being allowed to play cards that are 2 CMC or less feels like a HUGE restriction. You're also only going to be able to play the Companion copy of this card since Lurrus itself is 3 CMC so you don't get any in the maindeck. I cannot think of a BW deck that would even think about playing this sort of downside. BUT history is a wonderful teacher, and history has shown us that White Weenie is a thing. I think I'm missing on this one on the high side. While getting a card back to the battlefield every turn is a big plus, your dreams fizzle the second Lurrus dies. However, I think Lurrus is a really good maindeck card for Cat tribal decks (which aren't really going to be a Standard thing but is going to be a VERY decent Pioneer deck).

3. Umori, the Collector

It's not abnormal to play a deck with only one type of card in it...there have been "Oops All Spells" decks and all-creature decks throughout Magic's history. We also have an entire series of creatures that have Adventures attached to them, which mean that you can actually get spells into your creature decks and be able to use this Companion. GB Adventures is already a thing, and while you'd lose Lucky Clover out of the deck (which is a big loss), I wouldn't be that surprised if this gets tried as both a Companion as well as a main-deck addition.

2. Kaheera, the Orphanguard

This is probably the card that I'm most excited to build around. Yes, much of that excitement comes from Pioneer, where Kaheera is a card that Cat Tribal is BEGGING for and probably makes the kitties a very good tribe in that format. Sadly, I don't think there are enough felines in the new set to make Cats a thing. But Elementals had a higher-tier deck for quite a while in the early-going of this year's Standard but lords were sorely lacking. It doesn't help that Kaheera is a Cat but not an Elemental, but I'm guessing that there will be some combination of an Elemental framework of Leafkin Druid, Risen Reef, and Omnath, Locus of the Roil along with Kaheera, Questing Beast, and a few other choice creatures.

1. Yorion, Sky Nomad

I'm as surprised as you are. I was not expecting a card that requires you to play an 80-card deck to be any good. While all new players desperately want to play every card that they own, experience is a harsh teacher and experience says that you don't get to play that many cards in a regular deck and have it get better. But there's a tier 2 deck in Standard that may NEED the extra cards, already has a strong base, AND will make the most out of Yorion's ETB effect.

UW Thassa Blink is a deck that I've really enjoyed playing and even wrote about on these pages, and one of its weaknesses is that if it got into a board stall situation it drew so many cards that you might end up losing by decking yourself. But Yorion provides two things to that list... a flyer that can break up a board stall and, well, more cards. I don't think it would take a lot of work to put more lands into the deck, add a few copies of Deputy of Detention and Wingspan Mentor along with the other copies of Yorion, and you'd have yourself a pretty good deck. I'll be playing this on Wednesday, and I'm looking forward to seeing if an eighty-card deck can be a thing.

It's nice to begin a new set with some challenges. Each one of these cards is throwing down the gauntlet... can you find the deck that thrives with these restrictions? I'm looking forward to finding out, and I'd love to hear what you come up with. Let me know what you have... and as always, please drive friendly!