Companions Moving to Modern Main Decks?
- Marin Magda
The mistake that was the companion mechanic has finally been nerfed into oblivion, sure never to cause problems in larger formats again. But it wasn't just the easy access that made these cards successful. Do they stand a chance when one has to draw them the old-fashioned way?
In the unlikely case of anyone not hearing the news: the whole companion mechanic hasn't been banned but heavily overhauled. This might disappoint everyone who was eagerly awaiting a complete ban. Nevertheless we effectively got what we wanted. The new companion rules still require your deck to meet the stated restriction. But instead of getting to cast the companion directly from your sideboard, you now have to pay three mana of any sort to put it into your hand first. Like this was not enough, you can only do this at sorcery speed. This is a severe nerf that will almost certainly stop players from adjusting all kinds of decks across all formats to the companions' needs.
Still, Standard is a thing. As a somewhat slower format that uses weaker cards, Standard may want to give certain companions another shot, at least if some deck meets their restriction anyway. The cycling deck doesn't want to run high-cost permanents, so Lurrus of the Dream-Den may remain appealing. Likewise, a creatureless deck might as well sacrifice one sideboard slot to Kaheera, the Orphanguard. Although it's less clear whether it'll be correct to do so outside of best-of-one matches now.
Regardless, it's important to note that it wasn't the companion mechanic all by itself that changed the face of Magic. Even while prevalent, not all companions managed to claim consistent top positions. Only the most powerful ones dominated the meta in basically each and every Constructed format the game has to offer. One can't help but think that they weren't playtested enough, if at all. This is what leads me to the conclusion that they would be balanced cards if it weren't for the companion bonus. As a consequence, I was actually glad that they were neither banned nor just slightly nerfed. Because now we get to evaluate them as possible main-deck inclusions …
Lurrus and Obosh still do have abilities than can be used in multiple formats. Even without the level of consistency that being an eighth card in hand grants, they can still greatly contribute to a game the moment they hit the field. They certainly won't be as oppressive as they used to be, which makes this a good time for theorycrafting. I believe Modern is a good place to start.
The Near Future of Modern
Modern's trajectory is arguably quite hard to predict. Even though we did have a multitude of decks fighting for their own piece of the pie that is the metagame, many focused on Lurrus, some on Yorion, and there also was Red-Green Midrange with Obosh.
Yorion works best when you control a bunch of permanents that synergize well with it. Previously, you could invest all actual deck slots and all mana up to its arrival into preparing the Bird Serpent a warm welcome. Now, at least one or the other is no longer true, so the card's considerably weaker, much less playable.
Obosh, on the other hand, might move to the Red-Green Midrange main deck, staying on as a possible finisher. If it wasn't for this deck, I'd argue that only Lurrus should see play in the future, but this way, Obosh might too.
Red-Green Midrange was in such a good position all these months, I highly doubt it's about to disappear any time soon. Before Ikoria, it had Bloodbraid Elf, before the companion nerf, it had Obosh. Now, to a point, it can have both. With most builds relying less on land destruction and more on additional creatures and methods of dealing direct damage, Obosh is worth giving a try once more.
As I mentioned in my article devoted to Obosh, the card was always a good way of sealing the deal before the opponent got a chance to recover from a Blood Moon effect. With Glorybringer as a maindeckable 5-drop, there are of course alternatives, but it does not have to be the only big creature. The deck did run planeswalkers not too long ago, proving it can handle multiple curve toppers with ease. After all, all of its mana ramp wants to go somewhere. With Lightning Bolt, Bonecrusher Giant, and, possibly, Grim Lavamancer, Obosh is an enormous threat. Even if the opponent instantly gets rid of it, that may give you room to stick a Glorybringer, for instance.
As much as I thought that Lurrus would see play even after the nerf, I'm currently less optimistic about its future in Modern than about the Preypiercer's. The reason is, rather expectedly, because all decks that used to run Lurrus have a somewhat better way of returning their win conditions from the graveyard, if needed. The Druid Devastation deck used Postmortem Lunge, which also gives a creature haste — crucial for the Druid-Vizier combo — while many others included Unearth.
However, decks which rely on 1-drops as their biggest threats might still benefit from Lurrus over the aforementioned cards. No matter the archetype, most decks in Modern usually get to four mana easily. My hot take is that Death's Shadow decks could use the Cat Nightmare nicely. If the meta stops being hostile to them, Lurrus might prove to be useful as the deck tends to go hellbent and have nothing to do later in the game.
If Lurrus resolves, it can immediately return Delver or Shadow to the battlefield without disrupting this combo, while it presents a threat of its own. Finding room for Lurrus in such decks is very hard, so a single copy will probably suffice. If you manage to play two threats in the same turn this way, your opponent will need to try and remove them, or otherwise hastily look for removal. Because of reduced consistency, I certainly would not go for cheap noncreature permanents, such as Mishra's Bauble or Seal of Fire, but rather very cheap creatures that can also be relevant on their own. These two decks are just the first that come to mind.
Noncompanion Decks and Metagame Predictions
Since companions took over every format immediately upon the release of Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, the direction of the new metagame will certainly depend on the utility of other cards. Outside of companions, the whole set seemingly has a somewhat underwhelming power level, but Core Set 2021 may shake things up. I believe it's wilder than the last several core sets, and despite Ikoria's wildlife-oriented theme, much wilder than that one.
My guess is that, until then, the metagame will pretty much go back to pre-Ikoria days. Surprisingly, Ketria Triome seems to be one of the more played cards. That looks like some sweet tech that all Primeval Titan decks can use, but they still need to time their Dryad of the Ilysian Grove carefully because of the common inclusion of Choke and Boil in sideboards all over the place.
Eldrazi Tron just can't seem to get any less popular. I don't see how Chalice of the Void can stop being useful, as well as baby Karn that gives lots of flexibility and fetches Ensnaring Bridge. It's also pretty hard to shut down overall.
If the meta slows down a bit, Monogreen Tron and maybe even Bant Stoneblade are likely to become more relevant again. Additionally, the reprint of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as well as the low price of Karn Liberated may be enough to push the former even further.
Ad Nauseam decks were also good both before Ikoria and now, but if Modern starts seeing less discard spells, it might get even more popular. With the relatively new Thassa's Oracle, this deck now has an even easier way to win, even though it requires you to win on your own turn. With Humans still out of the way, this certainly is yet another deck to beat.
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