I will do my best to be cordial with this article but it is hard. Companion is a clunky rules mess that is causing widespread misunderstandings in the community. WotC has exacerbated this by doing little to explain it. I have harassed the judges for days to cut through the mess and today I will share my findings to help you avoid the inevitable game losses that are coming. I will also give my take on the design and competitive viability of the mechanic. Note that the release notes are not out yet so we do not know everything. Here is a link to the ten companions.
Nobody is dumb for not getting this. It is a very complicated mechanic and there is little explanation on the card of what it even does. It just says “Companion – [Restricition]” and that you can cast it from outside the game. What does that restriciton apply to? My full 75? Who knows? The WotC Ikoria Mechanics article did little to help either. It even had a short video with cutesy flavorful lines and very little substance. They bungled this and everyone has a right to misunderstand.
- If your starting deck meets the listed requirement, you may cast the companion from outside the game i.e. your sideboard.
- You must declare that companion before each game if you intend to cast it. It is revealed, they may read it, and you must keep it visible for the duration of the game.
- Your starting deck is the deck of cards with which you will play that game. Starting deck is a new rules term. It is not another word for maindeck.
- In Game 1 your starting deck is just your maindeck. In Games 2 and 3 it is your deck after sideboard swaps. If your board-ins do not meet the companion requirement, you may not declare your companion and use it that game.
- Your companion is not in exile. It is not in the command zone. It is still in your sideboard. But again you had to declare it, allow your opponent to read it, and keep it visible throughout the game.
- Once your companion is cast, it is treated like any other spell. It can go to the graveyard, it can be exiled, it can be shuffled into your library. It is not recastable like a commander.
- You may only declare one companion each game. You can mainboard additional copies if the card meets its own requirement. For example, Zirda meets its own requirement so you could mainboard three and sideboard one as your companion. Lurrus is a permanent with CMC greater than two so you cannot mainboard additional copies if it is to be your companion.
FAQs (Reiteration Included)
- Q: What is my starting deck?
A: In Game 1 it is your maindeck. In Games 2 and 3 it is your deck post sideboard swaps.
- Q: What if my companion dies?
A: It goes to your graveyard. Same with exiling and tucking. It is not recastable.
- Q: When do I declare my companion?
A: Before every game in which you intend to use it. Before mulligans each game. WotC has not confirmed if it is before or after turn order is determined. On MTGO so far, it is after turn order is determind so I would assume that will be the case in paper as well.
- Q: Where do I keep my companion?
A: Keep it revealed for the duration of the game. There is a token in the set for you to place it on, but this is not required.
- Q: How do I know my opponent is following their companion requirement?
A: How do you know they are not playing five copies of Lightning Bolt? There is not a clean way to be sure. If the opponent randomly concedes to an effect like Surgical Extraction, something is up and you should call the judge. It is a pain but the judges are there to help. If you suspect cheating, call the judge for a deck check.
- Q: What if I sideboard four copies of my companion?
A: You may still only declare one of them as your companion. Even if they are different companions.
- Q: Can I have cards outside of my companion requirement in the sideboard?
A: Yes. However, once you board those cards in, you may not declare your companion for that game.
- Q: How does playing a companion work?
A: It is cast and goes on the stack like any other spell. An effect like Dranith Magistrate will prevent you from casting it at all. It can be countered, exiled, bounced to your hand, etc.
- Q: Where is my companion?
A: It is still in your sideboard. It is not in exile or the command zone. Grafdigger’s Cage does not stop them, you could Glittering Wish for Jegantha, etc.
My Personal Opinion
This mechanic is a mistake. It is very clunky in paper Magic and WotC has done an even poorer job of elaborating on it. Expect to see plenty of accidental rules violations once quarantine ends and we can play paper magic again. I did not really want EDH to bleed into competitive constructed formats either. The mechanic is too powerful to ignore though. So I will just have to get used to declaring a companion before each game for the rest of my Magic playing life. Expect games to feel more like deja vu than ever before. These cards should have been in Commander 2020 but there is no going back. This changes the game forever, in a negative way if you ask me, and we just have to accept it. They will not just ban the mechanic outright a la conspiracy.
How Powerful Is It?
Very powerful. If your deck can play a companion with few or no deckbuilding changes, you absolutely should do so. The cost to do so is so low. People think that their fifteenth sideboard card is a huge determinant in their ability to win and it just is not. One sideboard card will appear in your opening hand in less than 12% of games and only do so in Games 2 and 3. It helps but it is insignificant relative to a companion.
If you have not tested it, I would not expect you to understand. It is unlike anything we have ever seen in traditional constructed formats. I would play a vanilla 2/2 for two mana as my companion in any deck that fulfills the requirement. I am not kidding at all. Having an eight card hand is an exceptional advantage when that eighth card is guaranteed to be a spell and not a superfluous land. Better yet, you know exactly what that eight card is and can tailor your deck to support what it does.
You know how you include cards due to the powerful way they interact with a playset of cards in your deck? Feels great right, but how often do you actually see that four-of? Statistically it in less than 40% of opening hands. So yeah the interaction can come up but it is not all that likely. On the other hand, a companion is literally always there. It is available more than twice as often as a card you play a full set of. It is not just consistent though it is card advantage.
Unlike a playset of cards, a companion is not a card among your seven. It is an eighth free card. You are up on card on Turn 0. When you are on the draw, you have nine cards available to your opponent’s seven. You do not mind that much if they remove your companion because it was free to you and the removal spell was not free to them.
In summation, you are giving up a sideboard card that shows up in 12% of hands in 50-66% of games. You are gaining consistency and card advantage via a card that shows up in addition to 100% of hands in 100% of games you play. If you can play a companion without butchering your deck, you absolutely should do so. You play a companion because it has companion; it does not have to be anywhere good enough for maindeck.
Who Is The Best Companion?
I am biased toward weenie decks but I have to pick Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Low cost cards are the name of the game in competitive Magic. That being said, going all the way down to one and two drops is a cost. But what style of deck wants an eighth card more than any other? A low curve deck that deploys its hand quickly. This companion requirement forces you to build a deck that gains the greatest reward from the companion mechanic.
These decks are also the most the most likely to have their creatures die so Lurrus himself is quite the benefit. Beyond that he is a 3/2 lifelink for three mana and very easy to cast; fitting in decks with white mana, black mana, or both. Powerful interactions with cards that sacrifice themselves are big too; keep him defended with Dauntless Bodyguard or make him into a one-sided Howling Mine via Mishra’s Bauble. I expect to see this in nearly any format in which it is legal.
Runner-up would probably be Jegantha, the Wellspring; particularly because of the potential with Niv-Mizzet Reborn. Niv decks are already contenders in Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. Their manabase is built to generate WUBRG and not trying to pay any double costs; cards that Jegantha would prevent you from running. Some concessions would have to be made still. Supreme Verdict becoming Solar Blaze for example. Or sideboard the Verdcit to find with Glittering Wish; board it in for aggressive decks that Jegantha is poor against. The payoff is worthwhile.
A value deck greatly appreciates an eight card hand as well. This eighth card just happens to cast the card you built your deck around; Niv. In Modern it can be cast through Blood Moon and then tap to cast Niv under it. The mana bump in general can be pretty great. Often you tap out to cast Niv and the cannot use the cards gained from his ETB. With Jegantha in play you can just tap it for Niv while leaving all of your lands untapped to cast the cards you pull up. You want to feel powerful? Cast a Niv Mizzet Reborn, Wren and Six, and Teferi Time Raveler in one turn. I think this duo will be wailing on people in multiple formats very soon.
It will also be jammed just about anywhere it fits because companions are “nearly free” value. Modern Humans will even be running it as flood insurance and anti-Blood Moon tech. Again, it seems silly if you have not tested the companion mechanic. But just having something to do when you flood out is great. Casting Mantis Rider and friends under Blood Moon is sweet too. I will say it again. If you can run a companion without butchering your deck, you absolutely should do so.
That being said, I have not tested all of them. I expect Lutri to only make a splash in Vintage; decks are full of one-ofs due to the restricted list. Even there though it is competing with the Lurrus, which can be cast off of and then immediately recur a Black Lotus. Expect a few decks with companions in every format. This mechanic and the mechanics of the set in general do not bode well for paper Magic. But that is a topic for another day. My playtesting has shown the mechanic to be be overpowered and it makes gameplay incredibly stale; every game feels like deja vu. To be honest it has killed my desire to play. I have been playing the game for more than eight years without a break. With the rampant “break and ban” designs I am finding it hard to support WotC anymore.
Update: Since this article was written the set has been released digitally. Various companion decks are succeeding in every format. It is worse than I had thought. I expect Lurrus to be banned in all competitive constructed formats and would not be surprised to see others go. Huge shout-out to one of our readers (Anaël Yahi) for compiling the data from recent events. You can find how each companion is doing in various formats here.
I hope this covers everything you needed to know about companion. I personally hate the mechanic and think it is bad for the game. But it is too powerful to ignore so I am working on multiple decks with it. Did you have any additional questions? Or a sweet companion brew you wanted to share? Let us know in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back soon with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.