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Are Companions Worth Jumping Through Hoops In Ikoria Draft?

Turns out companions are too strong to ignore in Limited! Ryan Saxe shares his hints and a late-breaking companion draft!

Umori, the Collector, illustrated by Jehan Choo

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I didn’t think I would have to write this article, but I do…

There is not a single common or uncommon that it is correct to take Pack 1, Pick 1 over any of the companions. 

Yet I keep seeing companions Pack 1, Pick 2 to Pack 1, Pick 5. You could make an argument for Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate if one of the rares is foil, but even that card isn’t in the same ballpark as the best companions: Lutri, the Spellchaser; Lurrus of the Dream-Den; and Gyruda, Doom of Depths

Let’s go through a couple of my undefeated companion decks.

At first, I was skeptical of Keruga. I would still take it super-highly, but thought companioning it wouldn’t be worth it, since no two-drops in a Limited deck is very risky. It turns out that having a companion is just so fundamentally busted that it’s correct to go for it where possible. It’s drafting on hard-mode, but it’s a fine line to follow because every single companion is just a good card to include in any deck. If a companion draft doesn’t get there, that’s okay! My current plan when I have a companion is to strongly shift my pick prioritization to optimize them. This means taking Frost Lynx above Essence Scatter, Of One Mind, and Dream Heron because of Keruga. Even though Dream Heron and Of One Mind are playable with Keruga, it’s extremely important to have tempo-positive three-drops to help claw back from behind. 

However, I would not take Frost Lynx above Ominous Seas unless it was late in the draft and I was already certain I could companion Keruga. If I Pack 1, Pick 1 Keruga, I would still take a card as powerful as Ominous Seas Pack 2, Pick 1. This helps my fail-case when missing on Keruga to still have a fantastic deck. I hope not to play Ominous Seas, since companions are just that good. But hedging, and walking that fine line between companion in the sideboard versus the starting 40, is the name of the game!

Companions are so good that you can splash them outside of their colors! This Izzet Kaheera deck might looks a bit odd, but it was truly phenomenal. In fact, it gave me a specific appreciation for Frenzied Raptor. I won’t get into that here though, as my article on Thursday this week will delve into this specific sub-archetype for Izzet. 

For now, let’s jump deep into a draft. I don’t start with a companion, but let’s just say that Pack 3 gets tricky!

Pack 1, Pick 1

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!

Hornbash Mentor isn’t even in the discussion here, but I wanted to bring it up because I think it’s overrated. The card is a glorified Centaur Courser and I would not play Centaur Courser in the majority of my green decks. I think there are quite a lot of commons better than this card, so if you’re currently taking it highly, I recommend changing that up.

Mythos of Vadrok ranges from Rockslide, a serviceable removal spell, to four-mana Plague Wind, a clear bomb. So where does it land? Creatures in this format are larger than normal. Most of the cards that matter in the aggressive decks have three toughness. And the mutate decks often upgrade their smaller cards. This means that Mythos of Vadrok is a lot closer to Rockslide than Plague Wind. Initially, I kept seeing this card hit two or more creatures. But now that I’ve seen the card more frequently, it’s clear that it’s just good, not amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s on the level of Blood Curdle and Fire Prophecy when it comes to removal, but that doesn’t compete with Archipelagore.

This is one of those picks where the pick singlehandedly made me realize I was wrong in a previous debate. About a week ago, Ari Lax told me that Mythos of Vadrok is closer to Rockslide. He also told me that Archipelagore was the best mutate creature. I disagreed on both ends of that discussion. I though Chittering Harvester, Auspicious Starrix, and some of the gold mutate cards like Parcelbeast, Boneyard Lurker, and Trumpeting Gnarr were better.

I was wrong.

Archipelagore is in my top five uncommons in the set now. It wins games out of nowhere with a base rate of a seven-mana 7/7, which is above par for blue. While stacking triggers on Auspicious Starrix can be fantastic, it doesn’t always provide battlefield presence. Locking down multiple creatures is often game-breaking. It’s why I think Frostveil Ambush is one of the most underrated blue commons. 

Needless to say, I took Archipelagore

Pack 2, Pick 2

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
At this stage in the draft, it’s fairly clear that I’m in a multicolor mutate deck. Let’s compare the creatures.

Greater Sandwurm is an awesome card for Limited. I love how my Colossal Dreadmaw can’t just rot in my hand at the beginning of a draft. And with Back for More and Unbreakable Bond at uncommon, reanimating Sandwurms is a real strategy. However, I believe it would be a mistake to take the card here. Look at the draft pool — it’s filled to the brim with impactful top-end. What it needs is cheap removal and mutate enablers to help get to the game state where that top-end can take over.

Frost Lynx has impressed me. Tapping down mutate stacks is surprisingly impactful, it enables mutate, and it helps push through Thieving Otter. While Frost Lynx isn’t a high pick, it does just enough to be in consideration for this deck. I think any blue-based mutate deck will be happy to have the card. However, when it comes to mutate enablers, Essence Symbiote and Glimmerbell are the best of the bunch at common. And the difference between two and three mana is large enough that I believe Essence Symbiote is a better pick than Frost Lynx, especially because it enables a great curve with Migratory Greathorn.

The pick is down to Essence Symbiote, a fantastic mutate enabler, and Flame Spill, an excellent removal spell. One thing I will note, is that I believe Fire Prophecy is better than Flame Spill. Even though Flame Spill is an uncommon removal spell, don’t let that cloud your judgement. 

Early on in a draft, I think the pick is a clear Flame Spill. But this is the middle of the draft. Given the draft pool, I’m genuinely concerned about having a good enough curve for all of the mutate shenanigans. I already have Ram Through and multiple mutate-based removal spells. Given this, I think the best thing to do is prioritizing the best possible synergistic shell for my deck by taking Essence Symbiote. It might feel weird to take a non-premium creature over a removal spell, but remember — it’s best to draft decks rather than piles of cards. Taking Essence Symbiote here preaches that philosophy.

Pack 3, Pick 4

Take a good amount of time to look over the cards I have drafted so far. Especially consider whether this can be an Umori deck, because that’s what makes this next pick so difficult.

The Picks So Far:

The Pack:

The Pick:

My take!
I have eighteen creatures in my draft pool. I would need five more for Umori to work as a companion. It’s a great card to just have in my deck, so should I bias towards it? 

Between the cards I can’t play with Umori, I think the pick is a clear Back for More. It’s an incredibly powerful card to go with my top-end. I already have a solid curve and multiple copies of Ram Through to help in the early-game and Dead Weight has been generally unimpressive (a fine playable but not much more). Lastly, Emergent Ultimatum isn’t worth the crazy casting cost. It’s a good card when on the stack, and I’m already Sultai, but I also want to play a Mountain for Porcuparrot and a Plains for Nethroi, Apex of Death

Which leads me to look at Evolving Wilds. While Durable Coilbug is a solid creature, black is likely more of a splash and shouldn’t be in consideration for this deck. Evolving Wilds takes this manabase from okay to spectacular, but it’s at the sacrifice of Back for More, one of the most powerful uncommons in the set.

I took Back for More. I wasn’t sure if I could get those last five creatures to go with Umori and felt like hedging to playing premium removal was better than hedging for the best manabase. While I ended up getting there with a fantastic Umori deck, I’m still not 100% sure what the correct pick out of this pack is. In the end, I would certainly rather have that Evolving Wilds, but I still think my logic of hedging for the best deck in case I don’t have the opportunity to use Umori is reasonable. If I had to make the pick again, I think I’d end up taking Evolving Wilds, but this pick is so close I can’t fault anybody for taking either card.

Below is my Umori deck and all I can say is… wow! With such a high density of creatures that interact, the lack of removal wasn’t such a big deal. I know I gave up on five premium removal spells, but it was well worth it. Just like Keruga, it’s important to prioritize cards like Frost Lynx since it helps you interact with the battlefield while maintaining Umori’s restriction.

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