Yesterday, the highly anticipated Banned & Restricted announcement was made, impacting Brawl, Legacy, and Vintage. As expected, the announcement was meant to remove, or at least temper, the enormous impact that the companion mechanic has had on Legacy and Vintage. I won’t pretend to be an expert on Brawl, but Drannith Magistrate and Winota, Joiner of Forces have both been banned in that format.
The big headline news for competitive play, however, is that Lurrus of the Dream-Den is now *BANNED* in both Legacy and Vintage. Lurrus joins a select few cards in Magic’s 27 years of history that were deemed too good for even one-of play in Vintage. And yes, that’s because a restriction would change literally nothing, as one copy is all a deck needs. The Vintage community takes restrictions very seriously, and I know they appreciate the balance that needs to be struck with preserving the way the format plays over the years and allowing natural evolution in the metagame, but it seemed to me like Lurrus was swinging the format far too much in the direction of change.
I’ve said this before, but Legacy is my favorite constructed Magic format, but I’d be lying if I said that the format is always perfect. While the “mistake era”, as I’ve started to call it, has led to Standard or Modern formats that were unenjoyable until they were solved, I feel that the impact that this era has had on Legacy has been much more concerning. Companions, specifically Lurrus and Zirda, were always bound to have an impact on Legacy, as their restrictions become less impactful with a significantly wider card pool than Standard or Pioneer. However, Lurrus has absolutely dominated Legacy since its printing, and it’s likely that the only thing keeping it from becoming an all-time great Legacy blunder was COVID-19 lockdown.
All this being said, and I’ve criticized Wizards of the Coast for several things recently, I was very pleased to see that they banned Zirda, the Dawnwaker after seeing its outsized win rate despite its current underrepresentation in the format due mostly to Lurrus’ presence.
One important bit of information was hidden away in this Banned & Restricted announcement. It read as follows:
“If we see signs of long-term health issues resulting from high metagame share[s] of companion decks, we’re willing to take steps up to or including changing how the companion mechanic works.”
There are a few parts of this sentence that I believe are indications of things to come for Magic.
Firstly, rather than banning each of the ten companions if and when they become a negative force on the game, they are considering changing the mechanic itself. To me at least, this suggests that these ten companions from Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths are not going to be the last cards printed with the companion mechanic. Whether they be in a supplementary product, such as a Commander product (although I doubt it), or a base set, companion seems to not be a one-off.
Secondly, and certainly most importantly, Wizards indicates a willingness here to break precedent and fundamentally errata an entire mechanic’s functionality in order to avoid having to “ban a mechanic”, which is something that fundamentally goes against their mission of allowing players to explore the exciting new mechanics of each set as they please. For example, Oko, Thief of Crowns’ banning didn’t impact the playerbase’s ability to play with the “food” mechanic, and Veil of Summer’s banning didn’t prevent players from playing any of the other color hosers in that cycle. Companion, unfortunately, appears to be fundamentally different, as any of the ten that are played are not conducive to the long-term health of any format they are involved in. There are a few ways that this could happen, but here are a few that I believe Wizards should consider:
Solution #1: Companions Aren’t Free
In this solution, the companion mechanic is errata’d to (If this card is your chosen companion, at the beginning of the game, return an additional card from your hand to the bottom of your library, and you may cast CARDNAME once from outside the game.)
This solution keeps the part of companion that allows for fun and unique exploration of Magic, the deckbuilding restriction, while eliminating the aspect of companions that the majority players have found to be the most egregious, the fact that the companions are a free card in your opening hand every single game. This solution certainly isn’t very elegant, but it would balance the mechanic considerably. Certain companions, like Yorion, Sky Nomad, likely wouldn’t see much if any play following this change, due to their power level being found mostly in the fact that it’s free, but other companions, such as Lurrus of the Dream-Den, would likely remain, as their power is found mostly in the card and board advantage gained through their abilities.
This solution likely would need to see cards in the second camp being banned in most, if not all, formats they are legal in, which is the main drawback to this companion solution. Because of that, I think this likely isn’t the best solution if (read: when) Wizards decides that there are “long-term health issues” with companions. That leads me to my personal favorite solution to the companion problem…
Solution #2: Companions’n’t
In this solution that I’m proposing, the companion mechanic is errata’d to (
I think that the companion mechanic can be officially marked as a failed experiment at this point. Don’t get me wrong, the initial few weeks of companion Magic were fantastic, and the intended blend of incentivized exploration and metagame diversity was absolutely there. Unfortunately, that has majorly waned since then, and companions have absolutely dominated every aspect of Magic since. If it’s not Lurrus of the Dream-Den, it’s Yorion, Sky Nomad or Obosh, the Preypiercer. Because of this, it’s clear that the issue isn’t a one-off power level mistake, but rather a mechanic-wide issue that would more than likely create issues if it’s ever seen again on new cards.
That being said, the cards themselves are all fun to play with, as they are usually large and flashy. This errata would allow players to continue to play with the companion cards in their decks, blinking permanents with Yorion, playing big beefy creatures with Keruga, or copying spells with Lutri. The companions would still likely be some of the best cards in the decks that would play them, but gameplay would be significantly less monotonous, as decks would be able to play with companions, but would no longer be able to rely on access to them every single game without fail.
At the end of the day, Magic’s biggest strength is that there are so many ways to play the game. So many cards are good enough and so many different strategies are viable. Unfortunately, companions have been a departure from that, and it seems likely at this point that Monday’s Banned & Restricted announcement will not be the last change we see to the companions’ impact on all constructed formats. While I think my proposition, Solution #2, is the better change to make, I believe that Wizards of the Coast is significantly more likely to go with Solution #1, thus allowing players to play with the mechanic, even if it means banning more cards.
Until next time,
@jonahgaynor on Twitter