Lurrus: Dream or Doom for Deck Diversity

Ikoria has been out for twenty months, and along with it came its most enduring component: companions. Let's look closer at one specific companion and its effects on the formats of Magic. Has Lurrus of the Dream-Den promoted deck diversity or diminished it? There are arguments for either side.


lurrus

The Best White Creature Ever Printed

Lurrus of the Dream-Den is a three-mana lifelinker that lets you recast one spell a turn. Does that sound powerful when you first hear it? It shouldn't, because such an effect is nothing to write home about. If you draw it early, you could play it as just a 3/2 lifelinker but that's barely playable in formats such as Pioneer or Modern. If you want to play something meaningful off it, you'd have to cast it around turn five. That's hardly the best white creature ever printed.

What if you could magically make it appear in your hand when you actually want it? Well, that changes a lot. This is where the whole companion mechanic comes in. Under the current rules, Lurrus would be in your fifteen-card sideboard, taking up one slot and can be put into your hand at sorcery speed for a payment of three generic mana. On paper, it still does not sound amazing. However, practice shows how strong such an effect is.


lurrus lurrus
Let's not talk about the fact that companions used to be even better (left)

You play out your games as you normally would. Sometimes you won't have a play turn three, sometimes you will want to blank your opponent's counterspell that they're holding up, sometimes you'll be flooded with a ton of leftover mana—in all those cumulatively common cases Lurrus comes in to save the day. It's essentially a free card, which is also a must-answer. Otherwise, it will run away with the game by recasting spell after spell every turn. If you still don't feel how powerful the card is, I suggest playing with or against it to experience it.

Mana Value Restriction


smol

If you want to run Lurrus as a companion, you have to fulfill a very specific requirement—all your permanent cards have to be of mana value 2 or less. How big of a limitation is it?

The short answer: it depends on the format, but generally yes.

The long answer: the dynamic that we've observed in Magic is that the older the format you're looking at, the more efficient and lower-on-curve each deck becomes. The average mana value in a Vintage deck is between 0.75 to 1.5. In Legacy that might be around 2 and in Modern at 2–3. Taking all of these facts into consideration, you can see that in those formats Lurrus slots into an average deck with barely any issues. This was actually true. There is a plethora of decks that played exclusively cards with mana value 2 or less anyway.

Let's flip the hypothesis put forward above: the newer the format the higher the average mana value. The talk here is mainly about Pioneer. Some decks had to adjust to accommodate Lurrus, but there are also decks where it immediately found a home: predictably white- and/or black-based, aggressively slanted constructions like Red-White Burn, White-Black Auras, Monowhite Aggro, Monoblack Aggro, black-red shells, Humans, Black-Green Sacrifice/Food. Clearly—plenty of decks.

The last thing worth noting here is that Lurrus's restriction applies specifically to permanents. While the first instinct is that it should be played predominantly in aggressive decks, the way the condition is phrased opens up more possibilities. Can you play Fact or Fiction with Lurrus? Or Cryptic Command? Or Into the Story? Absolutely! It enabled plenty of blue mages to accommodate Lurrus in control or tempo strategies. The big downside is that you can't really run planeswalkers with it. But you can still use spells such as Entreat the Angels or Secure the Wastes, you can use Kolaghan's Command to recur Lurrus and Snapcaster Mage to recur all of the aforementioned as it fulfills the condition.

Dream for Diversity

Can it somehow promote diversity? Yes, it can. First, it adds much-needed power to decks that are relatively weak. There are formats in which fair aggro decks struggle against other (often blue) spells' power. In Modern, decks have so much card advantage and free spells such as Fury or Solitude that aggro decks have a hard time keeping up. This is where Lurrus comes in. It paves those honest, hard-working decks a way into a sustainable endgame. When up against a deck full of removal but not full of countermagic, Lurrus will always be good for one spell. And when it allows you to replay Wrenn and Six, Eidolon of the Great Revel, or Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, it enables you to have some proper counterplay. Then the Cat itself has to be killed immediately so the thing cast with it will probably stay for a bit.

It also creates some diversity by making people look for creative solutions in the two-mana permanent department that otherwise might not see play. Think of Seal of Fire, Seal of Removal, for example, or Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor as a big planeswalker.

That's all I can say that's positive about Lurrus's presence. Let's delve into the negatives, which as far as I'm concerned greatly outweigh the positive.

Doom for Diversity

To begin with, Lurrus itself is so powerful that you really have to consider playing a non-Lurrus deck. Its sheer presence pushes other decks out, because why would you play a deck without it when you can play a deck with it. If you are running a fair strategy yourself, you cannot afford trading one for one with the opponent as, at the end, they will play their companion and run away with the game. It would be an ever-looming threat. But then it promotes a positive feedback loop where you play Lurrus because you cannot not play it and so you play endless mirrors.

In addition, because Lurrus decks by definition are dense with zero-, one-, and two-drops, it promotes playing countermeasures. While this in itself is not a problem, one specific card that is used to counteract such strategies is: Chalice of the Void. It's a toxic card that makes many decks just not play Magic. Non-Lurrus decks include one-drops as well so they are also affected by the Chalice's presence.

Then, it pushes away all the cool interaction that costs more than one mana, as you can't be trading down on mana too often. Cards like Abrupt Decay, Assassin's Trophy, and Go for the Throat have lost a lot of their appeal. Poor Vindicate hasn't seen much play either even though it's a fan favorite. As so many other decks have low curves, you're likewise forced to keep your curve low.

The next point is the elephant in the room and something that hurts me most. The fact that you are almost forced to play Lurrus due to its power makes you forgo a lot of really cool permanents that don't meet its companion condition. Plenty of cards have been largely abandoned because of that: Seasoned Pyromancer, Liliana of the Veil, Huntmaster of the Fells / Ravager of the Fells, Urza, Lord High Artificer, Batterskull and Kaldra Compleat, Wilderness Reclamation, or even Jace, the Mind Sculptor himself. The list could go on. It really does pain me as those cards have historically created or been part of interesting shells. Now, these cards are close to obsolete. I mean, why would you play those two or three copies of Reclamation or Jace at the cost of a whole Lurrus? It's a shame to see all those mana value 3+ permanents relegated to EDH, maybe Pioneer, and mainly trade binders.

All in all, as far as I'm concerned, Lurrus of the Dream-Den does stifle deck diversity. Personally, I'd rather play in a world where companions didn't exist. Alas, they do. I myself still like to pay five to cast Teferi, Hero of Dominaria against all the rational arguments in favor of the Cat.

What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know. And as always, hold my hand and let's pass the turn together. Cheers!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.



7 Comments

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LeoLuchs(09.01.2022 11:56)

Hey Skura,

It's been a while since i commented on an article of yours. Hope, you're doing well and you gotta get the chance to play some paper Magic!

Regarding the matter Lurrus - Doom or Dream i would like to add that actually the Modern Format is fine atm in my opinion. In some points i agree with JuanAM8, i also don't wanna see Omnath running wild and 4c being the best deck again. Also: if you'd ban Lurrus you should also ban Yorion (+ maybe Kaheera). I think Lurrus enables strategies like Jund with Ragavan or Grixis with Shadow to be strong enough to compete and i think it would be different without the Companion. There are Tier 1 Decks that don't play it like Murktide or Footfalls. If i would change anything in Modern i would unban something like Birthing Pod...

It's always the problem with strong cards: they push out the weaker cards we love to play and feel nostalgic about. The Companion Mechanic might have been a bit to much. Well, in the past there was Storm and Delve and other Mechanics that people also complained about but are now kinda fine and are part of the history of this game. I still think, 3 Mana is a lot and Lurrus is very strong but actually helps the format. So he's kinda the good guy ;-)

enrimassi(05.01.2022 21:36)

When you ban a card in Vintage(!!!) you know damn well you screwed up...

meowklub(05.01.2022 11:32)

Great article. I agree with you! It is a shame that they had to change the companion rule, and now the only companions that are played are yorion and lurrus. I think that if yorion and lurrus were banned or not printed in the first place then they would not have had to change the companion rule, and we could see some really cool modern and pioneer decks around more interesting companions like gyruda, Keruga etcetera. I think lurrus will probably be banned in modern some time soon.

JuanAM8(05.01.2022 08:37)

What an absurd list of cards.

Liliana and Huntmaster of the Fells aren't being gatekeeped by Lurrus. They are just plain bad cards in 2022 and have been that way since at least 3 years. Lurrus helped to convince stubborn people that kept forcing them, but they have been unplayable for a while.

Jace is seeing play, and both him and Reclamation have problems with the speed of the format and the risk of playing a 4 mana sorcery speed noncreature spell in a format with Force of Negation, Counterspell and dashed Ragavans. It's not about Lurrus and the most popular control shells are definitely not giving up on Jace, Solitude or T3feri.

Similarly to Jace, Urza just lacks a home and recently it seems to found it. That's pretty much it. They banned 5-ish cards from it, it's natural that it's struggling.

The only cards that are really competing with Lurrus as a Companion are Seasoned Pyromancer and Stoneforge Mystic (with the package of living weapons and swords), which are Modern power-level and fit in current midrange strategies. They're the only ones alongside Murktide Regent. And similarly to the dragon, there are lists that choose to give up on Lurrus in order to play those cards because they are that good.

Ban Lurrus and let 4C Omnath nonsense be the only midrange in the format I supose. How people gets annoyed by decks like Jund and Shadow is beyond me I swear.

Lexor(05.01.2022 07:33)

I can totally understand this. I'm forced to run 2 Mana options instead of the cards I want to play. But when your opponent manages to get 2 Chalice of the Void, the game has basically ended. For some decks, I refuse to run Lurrus because I don't want every deck to play the same cards.

judge-penance-ii(05.01.2022 01:54)

"Personally, I'd rather play in a world where companions didn't exist."
This. Just this. Companion should never have been a tournament-legal mechanic.

enrimassi(05.01.2022 21:32)

Judge-penance-ii
Companions are a stain on Magic.

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