Yesterday, the Standard (and Historic I suppose) Banned & Restricted announcement we’ve all been waiting for finally happened.
They did it, they banned the companions!
*Puts finger to ear to hear the breaking news*
Actually, I have a correction. Companions aren’t banned, they’re just… uhh… patched? Yeah, I’d say patched is the more accurate word
For those not in the know, the Companion rule now reads as follows:
Once per game, any time you could cast a sorcery (during your main phase when the stack is empty), you can pay 3 generic mana to put your companion from your sideboard into your hand. This is a special action, not an activated ability.
What changed is now Companions require an additional three generic mana that can be paid earlier in the game, and they take up a card in your hand after you’ve paid this three mana tax. This change is very, very significant, and I believe will radically impact the Legendary Creatures’ playability in all formats. I think Wizards of the Coast did a great job with this patch. Three additional mana is very steep, but allowing players to pay it earlier in the game offers some flexibility. Additionally, a large part of the problem with Companions is that they were just… free. As long as you met the deckbuilding restriction, most of which were very doable or not even restrictions at all, you started the game with 8 cards in hand, one of them being your Companion, which in some cases was the most valuable card in your entire deck. Forcing Companions to take up a slot in your hand after their “activation” has gone through allows for Companions to be much less of a must-include, free card than they were.
Arguably, Yorion, Sky Nomad will be the least impacted of all of the Companions, due in large part to its inclusion in slower, value-based decks that are likely willing to eliminate a sideboard slot to get access to an 8 mana Yorion should they want it. Cards like Lurrus of the Dream-Den, however, are unlikely to be close to their power level following this change. The majority of Lurrus’ value comes from its ability to allow you to two-spell on any turn that you play it. It becomes significantly more difficult to do that with a 6 mana creature. The small bone that Wizards of the Coast threw to the Companions of allowing the 3 mana tax to be paid on any previous turn doesn’t help Lurrus, as its restriction necessitates cheap permanents in deckbuilding. Because of this, if you are paying Lurrus’ Companion tax on earlier turns, it means you likely don’t have anything to impact the board… which is almost certainly bad news for your chances of winning.
If I haven’t said it clearly enough yet: I think this is a great, bold change and I applaud Wizards of the Coast for making this decision. While this change certainly doesn’t come without complications, from a pure gameplay perspective, this is almost certainly going to remove the negative impact that Companion has had on nearly every format it has touched. Speaking personally, I have played Magic since late 2011, and have really only had two notable gaps since then: when I had my first semester in college and… focused on enjoying that, and now. Obviously, I would be lying if I said that was totally down to Magic and not the state of the world draining my enthusiasm for hobbies, but I really do feel that Companion Magic was a major factor.
While most bans are foundation-shaking to varying degrees, these I think are very indicative of the future of Magic.
Erratas have been a tool in Wizards’ arsenal for a long time now, but never have they been used quite like this before, and for good reason. We hear a lot from Wizards of the Coast that they try to avoid bans wherever possible because they erode consumer confidence. So much of Magic’s strength is the ability for players to buy product, no matter how much, and enjoy the game. Bans that, say, devalue somebody’s collection $10 don’t impact a heavily enfranchised player, but they hurts the bond that newer players have with the game. Magic cannot survive on enfranchised players who have a built-up collection and don’t spend a ton of money on new product. Erratas have occurred in the past to modernize and solidify rules. Some of them were simple (e.g. enters play vs. enters the battlefield), and some of them were less so, with creature types being a main example.
However, fundamentally changing how cards are intended to work hasn’t really happened before. That’s because, until very recently, Magic was a non-digital game that allowed you to play a version of it digitally. That is no longer the case. Magic Arena, and I feel like I’m saying this a lot nowadays, has completely changed Magic’s future. No longer is Magic a non-digital game that allows you to play a version of it digitally. Instead, it is both a digital and non-digital game. While erratas of new cards are extremely harmful to the non-digital game and further damage consumer trust, they have very little impact digitally. On Arena, players can be given wildcards with the click of a button and the digital cards can change function instantaneously. Wizards of the Coast simply doesn’t have similar access to their non-digital players and their play experiences.
It is significantly easier for non-digital players to adapt to life with a new round of bans. All they have to do is… just not play those cards. Erratas cause significantly more confusion, as non-digital players still have the same ability to play them, but have to memorize the new text of the cards, as well as any rules interactions that arise because of them. For this specific change, as far as I can tell, the Companion activation doesn’t use the stack and isn’t an activated ability, which is significant for cards like Tale’s End or Trickbind.
It’s also important to recognize the impact of COVID-19 on this decision. Competitive high-level in-person Magic has officially been cancelled for all of 2020 due to Coronavirus, and there has even been some indication from Wizards of the Coast officials stating that a return to the old ways is perhaps even unlikely in 2021. Because of this, the actual effective impact of this errata decision on competitive play is significantly minimized. By the time Grand Prix and in-person Players Tours come back, there certainly will have been enough time for players to adapt to Companions in their current form.
Drew Levin on Twitter brought up an important point regarding Magic Arena and COVID-19. To simplify, he believes that Magic Arena was always going to replace “paper” Magic, but COVID-19 and Arena’s wild success has simply shortened the timeline. I hope it isn’t the case, but I think Levin makes a compelling argument.
Until next time,
@jonahgaynor on Twitter
P.S. Oh yeah and also Agent of Treachery and Fires of Invention were banned. Good riddance.