Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Making Magic in the Arena - Lurrus Control (And I Muse About Companions)

Ikoria has proven itself to be a set of intriguing and mechanically complex new mechanics, from the new Keyword Counters to the Mutate ability many of it's non-Human creatures come equipped with.

This is the first deck we've played this season that makes use of one of the most controversial new mechanics: Companion. There are 10 creatures in Ikoria that have the companion keyword, each with their own unique condition that, when satisfied, allows us to cast them from the sideboard. However, we may only designate a single one of them as our Companion, and only a single copy of them.

The one we chose for this deck is a build-around, where most decks won't be able to neatly slot it in without preparation. That said, we don't need to warp our core strategy too great in order to take advantage of it. Yes, as the title of this post suggests, that Companion is Lurrus of the Dream Den.

Credit to MTGGoldfish for providing the deck list used in this episode.

Before we go into the deck itself, we should talk about Lurrus, since we build around them. They are a 3/2 with Lifelink for 3-mana, which isn't bad stat-wise, but also not the reason they're interesting. In order to have them set as our companion, every permanent card (so not including instants or sorceries) must cost 2 or fewer mana. In order words, we cut ourselves off from any other cards aside from Lurrus that cost 3 or more mana.

And in exchange for imposing this condition on us, Lurrus will allow us to cast any 1 of these permanents from our graveyard every turn that he's on the board, as long as they cost 2 mana or less. Considering the first condition, this is a very convenient number. Given the nature of our companion's ability and imposition, the idea behind our deck is obvious: Focus on low mana cost cards that can generate us value from dying or otherwise being recurred.

This makes the Cat/Oven combo, which we've talked about before in the Jund Food episode of the Eldraine season, and obvious pick for our primary strategy. Both cards involved in the combo are 1-mana cards that already exist in Lurrus's colors. If our combo is ever broken, likely through Witch's Oven's destruction, then we can cast Lurrus and use them to resurrect the missing piece. It might not finish the game quickly, but it's an ever present threat our opponent will need to keep in mind.

Our other strong synergy exists in the form of Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, which is technically a 2-drop despite itself and it's Escape cost. In the absence of other potent permanents in our graveyard, Kroxa will always be a solid target to recast with Lurrus's ability. There are few decks that can deal with the strain of having to discard a card and/or lose life every single turn. When we factor in how the rest of this deck fills up our graveyard, it's also quite conceivable that we can summon with with his escape cost and use him to truly finish the game.

Also note that although Lurrus is a White/Black creature, this isn't EDH and we can still play Red. Lurrus's (and every companion's) hybrid mana cost also allows us to ignore the fact that they're a White creature, focusing instead on using Black mana to play them.

While Dreadhorde Butcher and Robber of the Rich don't necessarily have graveyard synergy, they're both 2-drops with haste that can come in early and frustrate a lot of other decks. The butcher is deceptively difficult to block, because even before it gets counters from dealing damage, it can deal damage on its way out which can take care of either creatures twice its size or multiple creatures at once, depending on the situation. And if we need to, we can always ping our opponent's face when it dies.

On the other hand, the robber can steal us cards off the top of our opponent's deck that we can use to extend our reach, especially in a mirror match or against a similarly aggressive, low CMC opponent. I've had games where I played more of my opponent's card with Robber of the Rich than I did my own cards. And like everything else in this deck, Lurrus can revive him if we need more fuel for our fire.

The last package this deck includes as far as permanents go is the Priest of Forgotten Gods, along with Gutterbones and Serrated Scorpion to act as potential sacrifice fodder. The Priest can also use any of our other creatures as a sacrifice, especially when we have Lurrus to revive them, and provides the necessary edict effect and reach to close out otherwise troublesome match-ups.

And if we need them, we can always use Claim the Firstborn to take control of an opponent's creature to sacrifice to either the Oven or the Priest. Should Lurrus either be dead or too unsafe to cast, Call of the Death-Dweller, given the conditions we're building our deck under, gives us nearly free reign to resurrect any of our creatures.

As someone who loves Aristocrats and Sacrifice-style strategies, this one speaks to me deep in my soul. Even in the footage, it's easy to see that I'm having significantly more fun, even in matches where I'm losing, than I did with the previous Sultai Flash deck. It's often a close, nail-biting finish which only adds to the tension and excitement.

Having said all that, I still can't say I'm particularly fond of the Companion mechanic conceptually. I used to play YuGiOh, as many of you know. What of the thing that bothered me about later mechanics like Link summoning and Xyz summoning in YuGiOh was that every deck could take advantage of them, and they had no reason not to. As a result, if players didn't use them, they would immediately fall behind the rest of their peers.

Technically, this isn't the case for Companions as of yet, since they all have conditions that need to be fulfilled before they can be used in that manner. However, it gets dangerously close to that homogenization and power creep that turned me away from YuGiOh. Some decks, like Jeskai Fires, started just slotting in Keruga, the Macrosage as a companion because they already satisfied the condition that everything they played was CMC 3 or greater, sacrificing nothing and gaining this valuable late game card draw tool.

But even if I ignored that obvious oversight, despite the fact companions restrictions can be tight or seemingly difficult to account for, many of the current top tier decks in Standard, and even a few in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage are using them (screenshots below for posterity since the meta will invariably change), even building entire decks around them, as of the time of writing. We saw a similar phenomenon in Hearthstone with cards like Reno Jackson. Some of them became of format warping they needed to be banned.

Standard Metagame - 4/30/2020
Modern Metagame - 4/30/2020
Legacy Metagame - 4/30/2020

Vintage Metagame - 4/30/2020
Obviously the set is still new, and it could very well be that I'm speaking hyperbole. The meta may shake out such that most of these companion cards fall out of use. However, it's not an auspicious introduction. Even if they never print new companions again, eternal formats are forever stuck with them, so we may see ramifications for years to come.

No comments: