The Financial Future of Companions

First, the bans. Now, the finance fallout! Cassie LaBelle talks Lurrus of the Dream-Den, companion’s future, and This Week’s Trends.

Keruga, the Macrosage, illustrated by Dan Scott

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We truly do live in unprecedented times.

Before yesterday’s announcement, the only cards banned in Vintage were fundamentally at odds with how tournament Magic is played: the 25 conspiracies, the nine ante cards, the two dexterity cards, and Shahrazad, which can create infinite looping sub-games. To my knowledge, no card has ever been banned in Vintage for power reasons. Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, and Sol Ring are all restricted, but legal.

That ended yesterday, when Lurrus of the Dream-Den was banned in Vintage. Wow.

To be fair, restricting Lurrus wouldn’t have mattered because of how companions work, and Lurrus is far from the only card to have caused a problem in Vintage over the past few years. Karn, the Great Creator; Monastery Mentor; and Narset, Parter of Veils are all restricted in Vintage, after all. But it’s clear that companions have become a unique sort of problem, and dealing with them will require a unique set of answers.

Lurrus of the Dream-Den Zirda, the Dawnwaker

That’s what we’re going to talk about today. With Lurrus of the Dream-Den banned in Vintage and both Lurrus and Zirda, the Dawnwaker banned in Legacy, the tale of what may end up being remembered as Magic’s most notorious mechanic is still being written. Wizards of the Coast (WotC)’s announcement leaned into the uncertainty and seriousness of the situation, and it was made clear that they are not ruling out further companion bans in Vintage, Legacy, or any other format. They even insinuated that they are potentially willing to change how the companion mechanic works, which would be a pretty stunning move.

Luckily for us, uncertainty begets financial opportunity. With the future of every Constructed format hanging in the balance and WotC starting to tip their hand, it’s time we take a long look at the present and future of the Ikoria companions. How far will Lurrus drop? How will Legacy respond to these bans? Are other companion bans inevitable, or are they still good long-term buys? And will WotC really errata the entire mechanic for power level reasons? Let’s dish.

How Will These Bans Affect Lurrus of the Dream-Den’s Price Tag?

Here’s an interesting counterintuitive fact about bannings: most of the time, cards don’t actually experience a massive price drop immediately after they’re banned.

Mox Opal

Seriously — you can go back to the price charts from the last few dozen bannings and see this for yourself. The biggest drops tend to happen when a ban is somewhat unexpected, like Mox Opal, but even that card didn’t drop off a cliff. Instead, Mox Opal has been losing roughly a dollar or two a week over the past several months. There was plenty of time to sell your Opals for close to the pre-ban market price if you wanted to.

More often, banned cards tend to shed value in the week or two prior to being banned. This is because most bans are obvious and inevitable, like Oko, Thief of Crowns; Once Upon a Time; and now Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Nobody wants to get stuck holding the bag on a banned card, so anyone who is going to sell their obvious ban targets tends to do so before the announcement actually hits.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

In fact, sometimes a ban announcement can actually lead to a price spike. Oko is the most recent example of this. In that case, lots of players realized that they still needed Oko for Modern, but they’d been waiting for the card to suffer its inevitable Standard banning before buying in. That way, they wouldn’t have to pay for Oko at its “inflated” Standard-legal price. Unfortunately, everybody had the same idea, so there weren’t enough Okos to go around. That’s when the price shot up.

Looking at the price chart for Lurrus of the Dream-Den, we can see a pre-ban drop that is similar to what happened to Oko before its Standard ban last fall. The price has dropped roughly 50% over the past few weeks, settling in a $11.99 after topping out at $23.99. Most of this action happened early last week, with the drop tapering off toward stability right before Monday’s announcement.

Of course, Lurrus’s price drop might not have been related to the pending ban at all. Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths has the weirdest, most drawn-out set release of all time, with many American and European buyers only now receiving the cards they pre-ordered back in April. The fact that Lurrus and Zirda were banned before some people even had the chance to buy a single pack of Ikoria has created a unique situation, and it’s likely that the price drop over the past two weeks can be explained almost entirely by the fact that it’s really hard for a rare from a current set to be worth more than $10, much less more than $20, especially when only a few people need more than a single copy.

To that end, I don’t expect the Legacy and Vintage bannings to affect Lurrus’s price tag much at all. Those two formats are fairly niche to begin with, especially when we’re talking about demand relative to the print run of a rare in a current set. Plus, if Lurrus did lose value due to those two format bans, most of it has probably happened already and that drop is already priced into the card’s current value.

That doesn’t mean that Lurrus isn’t at risk for further price erosion, however. Ikoria is only now hitting its global tabletop release, and the marketplace is filling up with extra copies of Lurrus. This announcement also signals WotC’s willingness to ban Lurrus (or even errata the entire companion rules set), and that uncertainty is far more likely to lead to Lurrus dropping in price than a hard ban in Vintage and Legacy. Plus, as we’re going to discuss a little further down, I’m pretty convinced that we’re not going to make it out of 2020 without either a complete post hoc re-working of the mechanic or a bunch of additional companion bans.

To that end, Lurrus is a sell for me at $12. The chances that the companion mechanic remains intact at its current power level and Lurrus is allowed to run rampant in Standard, Modern, and Pioneer seems very low to me. Add that to the fact that the available supply of Ikoria singles will keep increasing for the foreseeable future, and it adds up to an easy sell to me. My guess is that Lurrus hits $8 by June 1st and is $5 by midsummer.

What Cards Might Spike Now That Legacy Has Been Refreshed?

I can already see the Legacy players rolling their eyes at this subheading, because they’ve been dealing with companion-level shakeups in their format for months already.

It is hard to build consensus in the Magic community, but most of the Legacy players I know firmly believe that the format was already in a bad place before Lurrus threw everything for a loop. Arcum’s Astrolabe is the prime offender here, as the seemingly innocuous artifact gives players access to four or five colors of mana without being vulnerable to Blood Moon or Back to Basics. That has led to a homogenization of the format, with many decks concentrating around Oko and snow permanents like Ice-Fang Coatl. It is extremely likely that these four and five-color snow decks will dominate again now that Lurrus and Zirda are off the table.

It is also extremely likely that a few of the other companions will be thrust into the spotlight now that the obvious choices have been banned. The two most obvious choices? Gyruda, Doom of Depths and Yorion, Sky Nomad.

Gyruda Combo is a pretty narrow and somewhat fragile deck, at least for Legacy. It’s also an incredibly spicy brew that I’d expect a lot of combo-oriented folks to gravitate toward over the coming weeks. If this were any other format, I’d advocate for speculating on some of the more obscure cards that see play in this deck — Dack’s Duplicate, Phantasmal Image, and Restoration Angel — but this is Legacy, and Gyruda Combo requires full playsets of expensive staples like Chrome Mox, Lion’s Eye Diamond, City of Traitors, and Grim Monolith. Nobody is building this deck from scratch right now, so demand for things like Dack’s Duplicate is likely to remain low. You still might want to pick up your missing Gyruda Combo staples if you’re an active Legacy player, though — the deck looks sweet, and the buy-in is very low if you’ve already got the key Reserved List playsets.

Yorion Four-Color Control is the deck I expect to dominate Legacy coming out of this latest round of bannings. It combines the awesome power of the companions (and Yorion’s late-game inevitability) with the equally awesome power of Four-Color Snow. The big issue with Yorion is whether these 80-card decks have enough velocity to consistently draw the right pieces against linear combo, but the critical mass of one- and two-drop cantrips combined with eight Force effects should get the job done.

Null Rod

If you’re looking for specs from this deck, I’d start with Null Rod. That card is a sideboard four-of right now, and it’s also on the Reserved List. Considering the Reserved List spikes right now, I wouldn’t be shocked if Null Rod doubles in price at some point over the next few weeks. If you want a copy, act fast. I’m already starting to see it dry up all over as the price inches upward.

Oko, Thief of Crowns

It’s probably also time to nab Oko. Oko has pretty clearly bottomed out at its current retail price, and it’s slowly starting to tick back up again. I’d be surprised if Oko gets the axe in Legacy, and there’s probably room to sell at a profit between now and then regardless. This is a bit of a low-ceiling spec, but it’s not like Oko is in danger of ever being reprinted again. If you ever want a copy or four, this is your chance.

Force of Negation

Lastly, Force of Negation is going to see a lot more play in a world where Yorion is flying around in Legacy. Blue decks in Legacy rely pretty heavily on Force of Will, and four copies of that card simply aren’t enough for an 80-card brew. That means a greater reliance on Force of Negation, which is already creeping up in price thanks to Modern Horizons being at the end of its print cycle. The card has already seen some moderate price increases over the past few weeks, and I expect that to accelerate over the next month or so.

Are Companion Bans in Other Formats Inevitable?

I would be shocked if this round of bannings marks the end of WotC’s interaction with the companions. In Ian Duke’s announcement, he wrote:

As of now, we’re seeing a diverse and dynamic metagame that changes from week to week in each Standard, Pioneer, and Modern. Before determining whether any changes are necessary, and what the right changes would be, we need to see the metagame come closer to an equilibrium state.

This does not in any way scream, “Yeah, companions are doing great, full speed ahead!”

Why not simply ban a bunch of companions right now instead of waiting for things to shake out? Well, I can’t imagine that WotC is all that eager to entirely ban one of the flagship mechanics for the set that just hit shelves a few days ago. There are booster packs to sell, after all, and that’s going to be a harder job if 20% of the set’s rares suddenly become blanks. The equally valid, less cynical version of this argument is that many dedicated players have already purchased the companions, and WotC owes it to these players to give them time to actually use them.

The other factor is…well, WotC’s not actually lying about the current format diversity. The problem with Standard, Modern, and Pioneer isn’t that the games are bad, or even that a single deck is dominating the metagame like when Oko was running around. It’s that the companions inevitably create homogeneity in each format — both in terms of what decks are playable, and in terms of how each game tends to play out. Long-term, this is a big problem — nobody wants to play against the same card in every single game across every single format forever. But short-term? Living in companion-land for a few months isn’t all that bad. You can make a reasonable argument that it’s actually pretty fun, as long as it doesn’t last forever.

To that end, I wouldn’t be surprised to see at least one more round of bannings next month. My money is currently on Lurrus in Modern, where it’s present in the two most popular decks, and both Lurrus and Yorion in Pioneer, where they combine to dominate the top of the metagame. Sometime after that, however, the entire companion metagame may be revised completely. This way, WotC can have their cake and eat it too — a wild and overpowered metagame for two or three months, then a fresh start just in time for the next set release.

What does this mean for us financially? Don’t get too comfortable with the status quo. I have no doubt that some sort of additional ban or revision will come to Pioneer and Modern — it’s more a matter of when than if. Standard might end up being spared for a while, but if you’re thinking of investing in a companion-based deck in Modern or Pioneer now that they’ve survived the first round of bannings, I think you’ll end up disappointed.

Did WotC Just Telegraph the Future of the Companion Mechanic?

By far, the most interesting line of WotC’s announcement was this:

If we see signs of long-term health issues resulting from high metagame share of companion decks, we’re willing to take steps up to or including changing how the companion mechanic works.

I’ll admit, I’m tempted to read this as, “This is what we’re going to do for sure at some point, so just be patient and let us have our fun for a few more months, okay?”

I don’t think that’s necessarily true, though. I think WotC is still crossing their fingers that they can solve this with a few more targeted bans, and then they’ll get what they wanted to begin with: a few fun companion decks popping up here and there in older formats, maybe a Tier 1 list or two, but that’s it.

Is that wish too naïve? Probably, but I do agree with WotC that it’s somewhat too early to say. Adjusting the entire mechanic instead of banning ten cards outright across multiple formats could be a good potential fix if the mechanic remains as prevalent and format-warping as it is right now. For example, if companions started the game as the seventh card in your hand, it would mitigate the extra card advantage and the immunity to discard that make companions so overpowered right now. Lurrus might even be able to come off the Vintage and Legacy Banned List in that case.

It’s impossible to say how likely this scenario is, but a post hoc mechanical rework would almost certainly lead to a major shake-up across every competitive format and a lot of related price movement. This is especially true because I don’t think WotC will take any half-measures and risk having to double-errata the companions if they do take this path. I think they’ll ensure that Lurrus and friends will in no way be top-tier Constructed cards going forward.

Honestly, the fact that WotC included this line in their announcement is massive. I no longer believe there’s much of a chance that WotC will lean into companions over the next few years and turn them into an evergreen mechanic like planeswalkers. I also don’t believe that WotC will simply let them run rampant over the eternal formats. And that means that I no longer endorse buying and/or holding onto a bunch of foil and borderless companions as a long-term spec. The odds that these cards turn into complete afterthoughts is much too high at this point, and the risks outweigh the potential rewards.

As for purchases you can make in anticipation of this, it’s simply too early to take much action. Modern and Legacy have to reckon with other problematic cards (Arcum’s Astrolabe, I’m looking at you), while Standard might get an additional set release between now and then. Mid-May also isn’t a great time to buy Ikoria singles, since we’re at least two or three weeks away from supply saturation.

For now, the best thing to do is wait and see. WotC’s announcement makes me more certain than ever that WotC will likely fix the entire companion mechanic at some point, but that may not be fully resolved until the dog days of summer.

This Week’s Trends

It was somewhat lost in the B&R news, but WotC also announced the “Love Your LGS” promotion that will begin on June 5th. Buying any product or entering any event at your LGS will get you a free promo copy of Reliquary Tower (one per customer) while buying a booster box will get you a free Mechagodzilla, Battle Fortress copy of Hangarback Walker — no limit, until supplies run out.

Hangarback Walker

Financially, I would expect this to cause Hangarback Walker to drop in price by 40-50%, which is what usually happens with widespread reprints like this. Hangarback Walker doesn’t see a lot of play right now, but it is a solid Modern and Pioneer card that should somewhat hold its value long-term. The Kaladesh Masterpiece version might also drop in price by 10-15%, but that version isn’t going to get any less scarce or cool, so I wouldn’t sell my copies of that one right now.

Reliquary Tower

As for Reliquary Tower, the price might drop by 50 cents or a dollar, but the Tower is a top-tier Commander staple that has already been reprinted a number of times. This is essentially free money for supporting your LGS during a tough time, and I highly recommend taking the opportunity to do so once the promotion begins.

Over in Standard, nearly everything is down this week. Ikoria cards are dropping across the board, as per usual when there’s a massive supply influx at the beginning of a set’s lifespan. This is usually somewhat counteracted by new strategies being discovered during the first week of a nascent metagame, but Ikoria‘s delayed release means that the gains mostly happened back at the start of May while the losses are happening now. If you’re in the market for any of these cards and can hold off for a week or two, I’d be patient.

Grim Monolith Sliver Queen Tainted Pact

The opposite is true in the world of Commander, where it’s still spike-a-palooza. Reserved List cards like Juzam Djinn, Grim Monolith, Guardian Beast, Sliver Queen, Gaea’s Cradle, and Mox Diamond saw massive price surges this week, as well as Commander and cEDH staples like Tainted Pact, Enlightened Tutor, Consecrated Sphinx, and Staff of Domination.

We’ve talked about this at length already, but to recap: these spikes are being caused by a combination of increased demand and low supply. High-end Commander staples, Reserved List cards, and certain Modern cards have been hit, and will likely continue to increase for the next couple of weeks. The stimulus money almost certainly helped kickstart this trend, but we’re several weeks beyond that and it’s still happening. If there are Reserved List cards or Commander staples you want that haven’t spiked yet, now is the time to buy. Otherwise, this is a great selling opportunity for anyone who is cash-poor heading into what is likely to be a recession economy for the next year or two at least.

Vexing Shusher

On the other hand, cards like Vexing Shusher are popping off because the lack of available supply and overall market volatility are making buyout spikes easier than ever. The fewer cards are on the market, the easier it is for a single person (or podcast, or Discord server, or subreddit…) to cause a buyout spike. I saw a few social media posts last week about how Vexing Shusher was a low-supply card that saw a decent amount of Commander play, and bam — it jumps from $18 up to $50. It’s currently sold out at $17.99 on Star City Games, and will likely be re-stocked in the $30-$35 range, where it will slowly start to taper off like most post-spike cards tend to do.

Jeska, Warrior Adept

Jeska, Warrior Adept was also bought out last week. This was a Commander buyout of a low-supply card due to its synergy with Kelsien, the Plague from Commander 2020. This set hasn’t led to many non-manufactured buyouts to date, but with decks actually hitting shelves in Europe and North America that might be about to change. We’ll have to monitor this going forward. For now, I expect Jeska to follow a similar curve to Vexing Shusher — leveling out somewhere between its pre- and post-spike prices before slowly dropping.

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