With Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths released on paper, it is a good time to look at the impact of companions on Magic the Gathering. Rarely does a mechanic fundamentally change the way that Magic is played. Companion for good or bad has altered the basic way Magic is played. In the past, mechanics like storm and delve have had a similar impact on the game, but the cards with these mechanics were not all staples in multiple formats. This is the difference in the way that companion has affected Magic. Nearly every format has been affected by companions to the point that Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Jirda, the Dawnwalker have been banned in Legacy.

Each of the ten companions is finding play in standard or other formats. This has fundamentally altered organized play as we have seen over the last three plus weeks. Each of the ten companions has found its way into Top 8s and most have found their way into tournament finals. Each of the companions presents different problems for players that are difficult to plan for given that all ten see play.

How have companion has altered the way Magic is played? On the surface, companions are just creatures with powerful abilities. What has caused them to fundamentally alter game play is that they are always available to play. This gives anyone who uses a companion an extra card in his or her starting hand. This is a significant advantage to a companion player. It amounts to a no cost Demonic Tutor.

Demonic Tutor is so powerful that it is banned in all formats except commander and is restricted in vintage. This is how powerful the companion mechanic is in the game.

The second way that companion has altered Magic is that each companion gives multiple advantages to a player once it enters the battlefield. These advantages multiple the effect of the companion on the game. Each one has a unique effect on game play. This varies from mana advantage, card advantage, creature advantage, damage advantage to reducing casting costs. The ability to build decks around these advantages makes companion decks more powerful than traditional Magic decks. Therefore, some of the strongest decks from Theros season have disappeared. Even though, they are still good decks in a fair format.

Today I will look at five of the companions and their role in standard. Later this week, I will look at the other five. Today I will look at Gyruda, Jegantha, Kaheera, Keruga, and Lurrus.

Gyruda, Doom of Depths

Gyruda was the first companion to be exploited. Its companion restriction limits decks to only cards with even converted mana costs. While not having access to odd mana cost cards means that the deck has no turn one plays, most of the best mana ramping cards are two drops. This means that by turn four you can expect Gyruda to enter the battlefield. When Gyruda is played, you can expect another big creature to enter with it. In the most insane turns, Gyruda brings a Spark Double into play. Spark Double copies Gyruda and you go digging again for a creature. I have seen instances where a player gets four or five creatures off Gyruda coming into play.

The deck has fallen out of favor on the Arena ladder, because many of the other companion decks have ways to either prevent Gyruda from entering play early or simply can finish off a Gyruda player before he can take over the game.

Jegantha, the Wellspring

Jegantha, the Wellspring requires decks to have no cards with more than one of the same mana symbols in its mana cost. Its ability is a mana ramp. You can tap Jegantha to get one mana of each color, but it cannot be used to pay generic mana costs. This gives you up to five extra mana a turn. Making it much easier to cast multiple spells on a turn. With the mana ramp already in green and blue, a very fast Jegantha deck could get access to this mana by turn four. This can lead to cards like Niv-Mizzet Reborn entering the battlefield on turn four. I expect more focus on finding ways to exploit Jegantha in the coming weeks.

Kaheera, the Orphanguard

Kaheera, the Orphanguard is a lord for cat, elemental, nightmare, dinosaur, and beast creatures. Its companion restriction limits creatures in a Kaheera deck to those of the above types. The advantage of this is that each of these creatures gets +1/+1 and vigilance. When the deck gets going, it can quickly overwhelm an opponent. The weakness of Kaheera is that all the advantages he brings can be undone with a Shock or other removal spell. In my play against the deck, I typically have a way to remove Kaheera the turn it enters play or the turn after. I do not think we have seen the best of Kaheera yet. Expect Kaheera to see more play as Standard continues to evolve.

Keruga, the Macrosage

Keruga, the Macrosage immediately became the companion for Jeskai Fires. What Keruga has done for the deck is give it another draw engine for the deck. The companion requirement for Keruga is that only cards with converted mana cost 3 or greater and land cards can be in the deck. Since the Jeskai Fires deck did that already adding Keruga did not impact the make-up of the deck.

When Keruga enters the battlefield, its triggered ability will draw a card for each other permanent you control with converted mana cost of 3 or greater. This means that all your permanents in play equal a card draw when Keruga is played. Usually, Jeskai players will cast Keruga only after they have three or four permanents on the field. In my experience, when a Jeskai Fires player casts Keruga it usually means game over. Expect Jeskai Keruga Fires to be around until at least the fall rotation when key cards like Teferi, Time Raveler rotate out of standard.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den

Lurrus of the Dream-Den has seen play in a wide variety of decks. The first version was Radkos Sacrifice. Lurrus allows a player to recur sacrificed creatures from the deck and to overcome board wipes. Since the first week we have seen several variants of the deck. Two Lurrus Rakdos Sacrifice made it into the Top 8 of this past weekend’s Redbull Untapped International Qualifier #1.

The Second most popular Lurrus is the Boros Cycling deck. By week two of Ikoria season, Boros Cycling became a force in standard. What makes it powerful is the ability to race through the deck and find Zenith Flare to inflict eight to ten points of damage on a turn while gaining the same amount of life. This helps the deck stave off aggressive decks. Lurrus is used to bring back Flourishing Fox or another creature to push the decks game plan. It has had consistent results throughout Ikoria season. Two copies made the Top 8 of the Redbull Untapped International Qualifier #1.

The most recent variety is a Mono White enchantment version of the deck that uses a single creature with multiple enchantments on it to inflict large amounts of damage on a single turn. We have also seen Orvhov, Mono-Black, Mono-White life gain, and Mardu Knight versions as well. Each one has its own advantages but has not seen the success of the Rakdos or Boros Cycling versions. If Lurrus is around, expect him to have a large role to play in standard. The fact that Lurrus was banned in Legacy and Vintage indicates that Wizards of the Coast has concerns about the card. How much of the metagame continues to be dominated by Lurrus will determine whether a ban is in order?

Later this week I will look at the other five companions and their roles in standard.

Until next time, good luck finding your win condition!