Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has arrived on Magic Online, and after just a week of play has already made a case for being one of the most powerful and important releases ever. It's full of incredible cards, none more so than the companions, which have literally re-written the rules of the game itself by, in effect, bringing a slice of the Commander experience to everyone.
The power of companions is proven by the severe effect they've already had on every format where they are found, from Standard to Pioneer, Modern, Legacy, and all the way back to Vintage. Their performance in last weekend's Premier events was without precedent for a new release. They won events in each and every one of those formats, while filling most of the other Top 8 slots behind them, or the entirety of it in the case of a Modern Challenge.
Last weekend was special for being the first to feature two Challenges for each format instead of the usual one, which provided even more opportunity for companions to excel. In addition to results from one Pioneer and two Modern Super Qualifiers, there are a ton of decklists and data available this week. I've scoured all the results, and today I've broken things down with a look at the top-performing decks and their companions in each format.
The clear immediate takeaway is this—companions are now the best thing to be doing in Magic, and any deck or player not using them is running far behind.
With so many formats to cover I don't want to focus on Standard, but with companion decks winning both of its Challenges, it's obvious that they now completely define the format.
Taking down the first event was a Jeskai Fires deck with Keruga, the Macrosage. This jumbo-sized companion isn't ideal for Eternal formats that highlight the most cheap and efficient spells in Magic, so unlike the many other companions that have performed in multiple formats, Keruga has only performed in Standard. It's a great fit there in the Fires of Invention deck, and its adventure creatures help get around the restriction.
Taking both finals spots in the second Standard Challenge were Rakdos Sacrifice decks built around Lurrus of the Dream-Den, the most prevalent and arguably most powerful of all the companions.
An alternative variation on the sacrifice strategy ditches red in favor of white, which makes Lurrus of the Dream-Den even more accessible.
Another take on the Rakdos Deck instead uses Obosh, the Preypiercer as its companion, which unlike Lurrus of the Dream-Den allows it to play Mayhem Devil and even Judith, the Scourge Diva, doubling their triggers to quickly take down opponents.
Obosh, the Preypiercer is also winning in Pioneer, where it's a great fit into the Gruul Stompy deck based around one-mana acceleration and three-mana threats, which the companion doubles into game-ending haymakers. The deck reached the finals of the Pioneer Super Qualifier, sending streamer yamakiller to the Players Tour.
The most important companion for Pioneer has been Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Not only is its ability incredibly strong, but the card is also extremely accessible. The best cards in Magic are its cheapest and most efficient, so only playing cards up to two mana just isn't that much of a restriction for some strategies.
For some, like Boros Burn, this is already the game plan, making Lurrus a seamless addition that doesn't require any special deck-building considerations. With the ability to recast its fallen early threats, Lurrus is a great addition to Pioneer's Boros deck, which has been elevated from a tier 2 player to the top of the field by winning the Pioneer Super Qualifier.
For a strategy that requires a critical mass of damage and looks to eek every point from every card, just starting with access to an effective opening hand of eight cards is a big deal, even without getting more value on top of it. Lurrus is truly an unbelievable upgrade for Burn strategies, which have also ascended to the top of Modern, including making the finals of Monday's Super Qualifier.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den is also a massive upgrade to the Orzhov Sram Auras deck, another focused only on one and two-mana plays anyways.
Since the deck is already the same colors as Lurrus it's very easy to cast here. Its abilities are also very relevant, not only for recasting key pieces like Sram itself, but also simply as a lifelink body for wearing Auras. The deck broke out with a 3rd place run in the Super Qualifier, and then absolutely crushed Sunday's Pioneer Challenge, taking both 1st and 2nd place, along with 4th and 5th.
Companions only seem to grow more powerful as they dip farther back into the massive cardpools of non-rotating formats, and in Modern they really start to ramp up in the broken things they are doing. A good example is Lurrus of the Dream-Den and its basic interaction with Mishra's Bauble.
For the almost negligible cost of adding the 0-mana artifact, anyone supporting Lurrus has access to an incredible card drawing engine, and it goes hand-in-hand with the Cat in Modern, Legacy and even Vintage.
As evidence of its ubiquity, check out the Lurrus of the Dream-Den/Mishra's Bauble package in the Players Tour-qualifying Boros Burn deck.
Lurrus has truly revolutionized black midrange decks. It's changing the way decks like Jund are being built, and most significantly, has enabled a new style of Grixis midrange decks, variations of which won both of last weekend's Modern Challenges.
In the first, Lurrus was combined with Delver of Secrets and Ikoria's new Sprite Dragon, another sure Eternal staple that is also being used alongside Delver and Lurrus in Legacy.
In the second Challenge, Lurrus won in a controlling build full of more defensively-minded value-generating creatures Ice-Fang Coatl and Snapcaster Mage, along with Wrenn and Six.
And here's a look at the new Lurrus Jund deck, which Top 8'd the most recent Super Qualifier.
A surprising strategy that is surging with Lurrus is the Vizier of Remedies/Walking Ballista combo, which took two Top 8 slots in a Super Qualifier.
Note that Lurrus of the Dream-Den only allows Walking Ballista to be cast from the graveyard as a two-mana 1/1 (or a zero-mana 0/0, if you wish). This was actually bugged on Magic Online for a period and was not capped, so I'm not sure if it affected the performance of this deck. It's good either way, because the primary use of Lurrus is to help reanimate the mana acceleration and main combo pieces of the deck, all of which are lightning rods for removal.
Having a more modest but relevant impact in Modern is Yorion, Sky Nomad, which offers the potential for generating massive value combined with permanents with enters-the-battlefield effects. That makes it a natural pairing with both Arcum's Astrolabe and Ice-Fang Coatl, which accompany the companion everywhere it's found in Modern (and in Legacy, for that matter).
Yorion, Sky Nomad first appeared in a build that really pushes the blink theme with a set of Ephemerate, played by Hall of Famer and streamer Gabriel "bobthedog" Nassif to a Challenge Top 4.
Yorion has also worked its way into one of the format's top decks before Ikoria, Temur Urza, Lord High Artificer. It doesn't offer quite the same amount of value it does in a more dedicated blink build, but the deck is so rich in playables that the cost of extending to 80 is hardly noticeable when looking through the decklist.
When it comes to the most accessible companion, the winner is likely Jegantha, the Wellspring. It's not much more than a vanilla 5 mana 4/4 creature for most decks, but its mana ability is quite appealing for a deck that can fully utilize it with Bring to Light and Niv-Mizzet Reborn, like the one that finished in the Top 4 of the latest Modern Super Qualifier.
The cardpool of Legacy, with access to essentially the entirety of Magic, brings a wealth of ways to support companions, from Lurrus of the Dream-Den which thrives with the most efficient cards in the game, to more obscure options like Zirda, the Dawnwaker.
Zirda, the Dawnwaker offers an infinite mana engine with format staple Grim Monolith, and with Basalt Monolith for extra redundancy, creates the backbone of a potent combo deck. It has found a good home in the archetype based around Auriok Salvagers and its own infinite mana combo with Lion's Eye Diamond.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den has been the star of Legacy, where it's a perfect fit in the low-curve Delver of Secrets decks. Its impact is blatant, adding a draw engine with Mishra's Bauble and working well with the deck's cheap threats. Its more subtle impact is that as a guaranteed threat, the companion allows the deck to play less of its normal threats, which are more of an afterthought, and instead focus on the card advantage and disruption it lives and dies by.
Lurrus was an early addition to Grixis Delver builds, which broke out with a Legacy Super Qualifier Top 8 the very day after Ikoria went live, and followed up with a Top 8 in the first Legacy Challenge.
A more creative Lurrus Delver build instead leans into white, reviving a forgotten but once dominant Jeskai strategy en route to winning the second Legacy Challenge.
A unique pickup here is Meddling Mage, which is a powerful disruptive tool made better than ever as a great solution to opposing companions.
One of the more creative and powerful applications of Lurrus of the Dream-Den is in otherwise colorless decks, like the "Steel Stompy" deck, something like a mashup between Modern Affinity and Vintage Mishra's Workshop prison decks.
The idea here is that Lurrus might not always be castable by the manabase, but it's a free addition to a deck that doesn't play expensive cards anyways. It's supported by the five-color producing Mox Opal and Lotus Petal, but the deck also gets creative by adding Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to single-handedly enable it.
The deck also goes deep on Karakas, also used in both of the winning Delver decks. It has skyrocketed into a real staple because of its interaction with companions, both for protecting one's own and disrupting the opponent's.
AnziD is a prolific Legacy streamer/supporter and Miracles aficionado who has done a lot of work in the past year working on the archetype, especially on trying to fit busted new cards into it. So it's not surprising he's been working on fitting a companion into the deck too, and Yorion, Sky Nomad is a fitting inclusion alongside the Arcum's Astrolabe that started the deck's march towards the four and even five-color abomination it is today.
Companions are even crushing it in Vintage, where synergies like the one between Lurrus and Black Lotus make them incredibly powerful tools - this list with them took finals spots in the first Vintage Challenge.
Vintage provides a very fun opportunity for Lutri, the Spellchaser, which works well in the context of a restricted list that also demands playing 1-of cards. By making some relatively minor deckbuilding concessions and getting creative with the full range of Vintage midrange blue tools, Yuuta Takahashi created an incredible deck that looks more like one for Commander than Vintage, and played it to the finals of the Vintage Challenge—it looked so fun I built it for the next one, where I made my own Top 8 run where the otter copied spells including Ancestral Recall and Gush.
What about Gyruda?
Hanging over the head of nearly all of the results is the fact Gyruda, Doom of the Depths is banned in all formats on Magic Online, due to a bug in the programming. Before the ban, which happened Saturday night, it was in the process of breaking out in essentially every format due to its incredible synergy with Clone effects. Milling and reanimating a Clone-style creature creates another trigger, which goes on for as long as one keeps hitting more - and there are enough available to do this reliably. Add things like Spark Double or Sakashima, the Imposter, which stay around despite the Legend rule, and something like Dragonlord Kolaghan to give them haste, and you have a new type of combo deck. It's only a matter of time before the card is fixed and unbanned, or simply released in paper where it works correctly, and starts to become one of the game's most important companions.
I'd take special note of Gyruda in Pioneer, where it made a run into the top 4 of the Pioneer Super Qualifier.
Gyurda is especially wild in Legacy, where Gyruda, and companions in general, have a broken interaction with Lion's Eye Diamond by getting around its discard drawback.
I leave you with this MTGO screenshot that has been circulating: