Drifter’s Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited Tier List Update – April 22, 2020: Feed Your Companions
Hey everyone! So I wasn’t expecting to do an update quite this soon into the format since it’s been less than a week since release, but I’ve been drafting a lot and there are a few impressions I have of the format so far that I’d like to share with you. These aren’t hard conclusions I’m certain about yet, but I have enough evidence that I feel comfortable telling you about them!
- Mutate has been harder to punish than I expected; there’s not enough high quality removal to stem the tide, you usually get a bunch of damage through first, and this set makes it exceptionally easy to recoup card advantage, especially because of Companions. The downside of having to sometimes play subpar creatures isn’t that big a deal when the format is as slow as it seems so far.
- Dedicated cycling decks have been tough to actually get enough cards for, but good when they work. I think it’s an archetype that really rewards picking up some payoffs early, and you should only go into it when you do.
- I expected aggro to be better early than it has been; I feel like Companions and the strength of midrange have both kept it down. The format is really slow, potentially even slower than Theros: Beyond Death.
- Last but certainly not least, the lede’s in the title! I said that Companions being rares meant they wouldn’t be that important for Limited, but they are so good, there are so many of them, and the Companion mechanic itself means you see them so often that they really are… I thought Companions would add more archetype variety to drafting, but they are so powerful and easy to make work that they are instead homogenising it. I’m a bit sad about it since I think the format, which is still really fun, would approach all-time great level in its intricacy and depth without them. Forcing them whenever you see them is actually a strategy that’s been working out for me, people I’ve been talking to, and pros such as Ben Stark on Twitter; such is the power of having a potentially extremely powerful eighth card for free. That doesn’t mean that every single one is busted, and I maintain that there are some which you really shouldn’t try to Companion, such as Zirda, but there are several that are much better than I gave them credit; there seem to be enough playables that you can often stitch something together and then be saved by having probably what is probably your best card for free.
If you haven’t seen my updates before, you can find them for Theros: Beyond Death here! This one’s a bit different because I’ll be talking about each Companion separately, even the ones that didn’t move, alongside my regular grade changes. That’s because I felt I didn’t really talk enough/give enough advice about how to Companion some of them, and how you should approach the drafting stage if you have them.
I have changed Companion grades enough that that is the main impetus for this update.
Overall, I’ve been pretty happy with my ratings for the format and I don’t have tons of things to change, but there were always going to be some proportion among the hundreds where I missed the mark a bit.
The True Terrors Themselves
Strategic Implications of Companions
Note: I’m always talking in the context of if you can Companion in the upcoming text, unless I specifically state otherwise.
- If you see one you can possibly Companion early, you should probably take it and try hard to build your deck around it; even if you have to take some power level losses, it will generally work out, because they are that good. If you see another bomb (or heaven forbid another Companion) then yes you might want to consider stopping and being a normal deck, but it has to be a real bomb so high A or S tier – even two great removal spells won’t be close to enough to overcome the advantage you gain from getting a 2 for 0 from Gyruda, Keruga, or Lutri.
- Many Companions will require you to play a bunch of colours to have enough playables; if they do, then you should be taking fixing highly. Remember that it’s not like you’re missing your playables – if your fixing allows you to play a lot of colours, you should be able to make your playable counts anyway. If you can make the playable count with splashes instead, then more’s the better, since you do need a significant amount of fixing to be full 3 colours (to run an 8-8-7 mana base, you need a full 6 extra sources if you’re playing 17 lands, though Evolving Wilds will count for 2 extra since it’s 3 minus 1 because you’re replacing a land slot with it) – 2 colours splash 2 or 3 is often much easier.
- You can mulligan more aggressively, especially against people who don’t have Companions. This is because you’re always going to have a great card for free to recoup the disadvantage, so your job is to make sure you have a good mix of lands for casting them, and spells for surviving. Companions make keeping two-landers on the play and such much worse if they’re expensive; if you have something like Obosh or Gyruda, you should be throwing those back on 7 most of the time. Don’t go too low though since then you risk having too few lands anyway; at 6, I would be keeping normal hands much more.
- If you take a Companion early and intend to force it, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a time at which you should call it quits – if you are given the option between a bomb and a pick that fits the requirements that is much worse, you should certainly still take the bomb and still be happy to just have the Companion in your deck, and I would still take As over say C+s early in case I get a few of them, but it is certainly worth going out of your way for them.
- If you have a Companion at a certain mana cost, it is a reason to take/play less cards of that mana cost, since you will always have that point on your curve taken care of. That being said, if the cards are good then it doesn’t matter and you should just play them; it’s a tiebreaker and a slight rating adjustment at best.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths A -> S
I’m bumping Gyruda up to S because she’s one of the primary ones you can just force and usually have it be great, especially if you pick her in packs 1 and 2, but sometimes even in pack 3 if you have close to enough playables; even if you have to go up to 20-21 lands for her, it’s generally worth it. Definitely play lands over bad cards; if the card is anywhere in the D range and isn’t especially good in your deck because of curve or being an overcosted even creature then I would play an 18th land over it, and if it’s not a D+ then probably 19th too. I would play the 21st land before I even considered playing most cards in the F range, unless they cycle or something. You want to have less high end if you can Companion her since you’re always going to be drawing a busted 6 drop every game, and you want to prioritise even creatures to some degree since she does have a chance to miss even if it’s fairly unlikely given you can steal things from their graveyard too; good creatures are going to be more important than great spells, if they’re on about the same power level.
Jegantha, the Wellspring B -> A
I expected Jegantha to be not too hard to enable but not to be a true bomb, and not worth sacrificing too much power for. The reality is a free 5/5 that ramps and fixes for your splashes that you draw every game is really good; it’s usually worth not playing double colour cards, unless they’re other Bombs or a bunch of cards in the B or A range you would have to replace with much weaker cards. Jegantha ensures that unless they immediately kill her (which is still good for you, and not that easy for them to do this format), you always have 6 mana the turn after to cast whatever you want; she makes 6-7 drops and splashes much better if you can Companion her, as you will always have at least 6 mana the turn after you play her, and access to whatever colour you want; it’s not at all uncommon to go t5 Jegantha t6 3 drop and 4 drop, and that swing is often devastating. A 5/5 will almost always dominate the board in this format; most of the other creatures aren’t as big as that. If you can companion Jegantha, you can take medium 5 drops much less highly, and cut them from your deck.
I think Jegantha actually does reach bomb level in terms of average impact she has on a game; I’ve left her in the A range for now though, but the fact that I’m worrying that I’ll have to come back and move a card this unassuming up to S later is all you need to know about Companion…
Kaheera, the Orphanguard B -> S
It turns out that there are enough Cats, Elementals, Nightmares, and Dinosaurs (really this mostly just reads nonhumans) in the set that forcing Kaheera commonly works out. Again, you shouldn’t sacrifice too much so if you have bombs in the other tribes or a bunch of very good creatures in the A range that don’t fall into these categories, you should stick with those, but taking Kaheera highly is absolutely fine. With Kaheera, you really want to prioritise 2 drop creatures that fit into those tribes, since there aren’t all that many and Kaheera makes all of them a ton better – you should be taking even mediocre ones like Maned Serval in the B range, since 2/5 for 2 is pretty good!
Keruga, the Macrosage A -> S
Keruga is both trivially easy to enable and basically always worth it. Aggro isn’t a huge force in the format and it tends to be on the really slow side, so so it’s rare that you actually get severely punished for not playing stuff on turns 1 and 2. Cycling sort of lets you play around this restriction too, by filling up your graveyard for cards like Unbreakable Bond and smoothing out your land drops. Prioritising 3 drop and 4 drop creatures is super important with Keruga – you want to have tons of 3s so you can immediately get going, and more 4s than in an average deck since you can’t double spell on 2 anymore; that’s something which made 4s significantly less important. Cards like Splendor Mare and Bastion of Remembrance become priorities, even over removal, since those cards are so good at catching you up.
Lurrus of the Dream Den B -> A
Lurrus is still way too hard to Companion in Limited; he may be a competitor to Oko and all that in Constructed, but it’s still too much. That being said, his ability is absurd enough that I think he should go up to A and you should prioritise cards like Dead Weight which work exceptionally well with him, and play more reasonable 2 drops if you have him.
Lutri, the Spellchaser A -> S
Lutri is still trivially easy to enable, and basically always worth it unless you open two of the same bomb or whatever (or you’re in pack 3 and very far from both red and blue). I would almost never pass this card if I didn’t already have a Companion and could cast it. Spells get a bit better, but honestly as long as you have minimum 4 or 5 then you probably don’t want to value them too much higher – you only get to copy one. That being said, stuff like Cathartic Reunion gets much better – discard two, draw six on turn 5 is absolutely incredible.
Obosh, the Preypiercer A -> S
Obosh is significantly worse than Gyruda, but you should still be pretty happy to force it. As I said in the review, it’s true that sacrificing 2s and 4s is much worse than sacrificing 1s and 3s, but the format is slow enough that starting at 3 isn’t so bad, and there are some 1 drops you can get, which are all better with Obosh. Of these, Riptide Turtle and Flourishing Fox are high priority if you’re in the right colours (and have some synergy with the Fox), I would try harder to pick up Whisper Squads (though still wouldn’t play them unless I had two minimum), Garrison Cat is reasonable, Zagoth Mamba can be played with less synergy (probably only like 4 mutates instead of 7), and Brushwagg and Serrated Scorpion are actually reasonable here, since they both get much better with double damage. The rest are still kind of garbage, and you still want to prioritise good 3s a lot, especially those with abilities like lifelink which are great with double damage; having double damage every game really skews the evaluations on some things, like first strikers are far better. In general, you also want to prioritise creatures over noncreatures, since double damage makes them much better unless those spells have synergy (Blazing Volley gets better and is maindeckable but still not busted or anything), though I still wouldn’t take significantly worse creatures over spells.
Umori, the Collector C+ -> B
Umori is one of those I wouldn’t try to force and would instead just have in your deck, unless you’re close to being able to make it work anyway in pack 3 and have a bunch of creatures that do other things like Blitz Leech; if you can Companion Omori, you can take 4 drops much less highly/play less of them. A free 4 mana 4/5 that ramps you to 6 is still pretty nuts, but I really think that forcing yourself to run no spells will backfire in most cases – there are just too many good spells. Still, I have bumped its grade up a little, since I would take it a little higher in case it does work out (and really I think I should’ve given it a B anyway).
Yorion, Sky Nomad A -> S
Yorion is an easy move up, since it is pretty reasonable in a set full of so much fixing to play 60 cards. You want to adjust your source count to 26 or 27, but it’s usually worth it, unless you’re already short on playables in pack 3 (in which case, he can just be a great card in your deck!). With Yorion, I’ve bumped up the land count slightly more than I normally would because you really want to reach 6 mana with him, and every card with a reasonable ETB gets significantly better. You still want to try very hard to not include Fs in your deck!
Zirda, the Dawnwalker C+ -> C+
As you can see from the screenshot above, Zirda is technically possible to Companion, but honestly it’s hard! That coupled with the payoff not being as great as the other ones leads me not to raise Zirda’s grade. That being said, sometimes if you’re Boros or Azorius Cycling already and open it in pack 3 and you don’t have to give up much, sure it’s worth throwing a few medium cards out to make Zirda work; making your cyclers cost 1 instead of 2 is good upside, and preventing them from blocking is nice. If you have Zirda as a Companion, you can eschew all 3 drops that aren’t actively good from your deck – you just won’t need them.
Other Grade Changes
- Aegis Turtle C- -> C
- Bastion of Remembrance C+ -> B
- Blitz Leech C+ -> B
- Cubwarden B -> A
- Fertilid C -> C+
- Flourishing Fox C+ -> C
- Eerie Ultimatum D -> C-
- Emergent Ultimatum D -> C-
- Genesis Ultimatum D -> C-
- Heightened Reflexes C+ -> C
- Honey Mammoth D -> C-
- Reconnaissance Mission C- -> C+
- Snare Tactician C+ -> C
- Unbreakable Bond C -> C+
- Weaponize the Monsters C- -> C+
- Wilt F -> D
Without further ado, let’s blitz through faster than any Leech!
Aegis Turtle C- -> C
I really like good blockers, I don’t want to prioritise 2 drops too much, my 2 drops being mutate-ready is solid upside; all this means that the Turtle is often my 2 drop of choice. The creatures of this format aren’t as big as I thought they would be, and they rarely exceed 5 power so the Turtle is often a solid roadblock that remains useful even in the late game. I can’t really overstate the difference between 5 and 4 toughness – an 0/4 for 1 has been terrible in most formats, but there are tons of creatures at 4/x in this one, and the Turtle stops them all at a very low investment even on turns 4 or 5.
Bastion of Remembrance C+ -> B
In the sort of slow grindy games this format promotes, Bastion adds up to a lot of drain over the course of the game. Often decks really want lifegain too, since there isn’t tons and it staves off dying to repeated Mutate attacks.
Blitz Leech C+ -> B
In a format that’s this splash-friendly and slow, Blitz Leech makes low B. The removing counters from things comes up a ton, and means this card is often a straight 2 for 1; I have been happy to play multiples in practically every deck.
Cubwarden B -> A
I thought that Mutate was going to be easy enough to punish that Cubwarden would merely warrant a high B, since if killed it isn’t that great a rate. That’s not the case – Mutate is good, and Cubwarden threatening to spit out more 1/1s makes it a fantastic card, worthy of low A.
Eerie Ultimatum, Emergent Ultimatum, Genesis Ultimatum D -> C-
I think the fixing is so busted in Green that I can justify raising my grades for the green Ultimatums; Fertilid helps a lot with this by double ramping you towards them, so pick that up highly! Emergent is worse than the other two in terms of effect, but better in terms of ease of fixing, since you want to run tons of green sources in your Ramp decks anyway.
Fertilid C -> C+
Fertilid has been great and actually makes it to high C+ because of how good the 5 colour Green decks are. T3 Fertilid t4 block and double ramp is often actively what you want to do in a slow format with so many ways to use your mana late. When you don’t, mutating onto Fertilid is still great, since whatever you do that with keeps the counters and gets an immediate huge swing in. In a future update, I may move Fertilid up to B even.
Flourishing Fox C+ -> C
The Fox was never a truly incredible payoff anyway; I think you want better payoffs than the Fox to go into the dedicated cycling deck, but once you are there and have other payoffs, it’s pretty good. Outside of it, the Fox is just okay; its saving grace is that you can still cycle it for 1, but I would really want 5-6 cyclers to have it even so. I don’t take it early very often anymore or really value it outside of dedicated cycling, so I’ve moved it down to C.
Heightened Reflexes C+ -> C
This format just isn’t enough about tricks, what with aggro being mediocre. Reflexes is still a C, since if you ever do get a kill you get an amazing rate, but the statlines often don’t work out that well for it either.
Honey Mammoth D -> C-
What I said about cycling is true; the common 6 and 7 drop cyclers hurt the Mammoth in occupying the same slots and being better, but what helps it a lot is how easy 6 mana is to reach in Green, especially with cards like Fertilid and Humble Naturalist. Additionally, that deck often ends up taking a bunch of damage to do so, and doesn’t want to die to the immediate damage done by mutates, so the Mammoth is a C- again, hoorah!
Unbreakable Bond C -> C+
5 mana is really easy to reach in this set, and Unbreakable Bond tends to be fantastic in the Golgari decks; being able to cycle a big thing early and play it as a massive threat on t5 is huge value. I’ve been happy to run multiple Bonds in many decks, and have spent many a turn crossing my fingers and hoping to draw it. This is a high C+.
Reconnaissance Mission C- -> C+
The format is slow enough that taking turn 4 off often isn’t that big a deal, and Mutates tend to be really good at getting through. Frost Lynx is at common and helps too. The fliers decks have less need for great blockers, and more need for value than I thought. All of this has led me to raise the grade of this Enchantment significantly; you’ll often cycle it, but it’ll be devastating when you don’t.
Snare Tactician C+ -> C
Snare Tactician hasn’t been great for me outside the dedicated cycling decks, and I no longer take it as highly early as a result. It’s still very good if you’re in those, that being said.
Weaponize the Monsters C- -> C+
Weaponize the Monsters is pretty great for denying removal and killing people this set. The mutates mean people’s life totals tend to be on the lower side as the game goes on, and reach is more valuable (reach in the sense of burn decks having reach, being able to reach over and kill their opponents, not the keyword). I’m happy to take the card significantly higher on that basis, though I still consider it a low C+.
Wilt F -> D
As you may have noticed, a lot of the cards whose grades I’ve been raising are Enchantments! I was right that there aren’t that many artifacts & chants, but the Enchantments are high value enough this set (and there are still a bunch) that I don’t mind maining this as my 23rd card if I don’t have anything better.
Zenith Flare D -> C
I think I was sort of wrong about Zenith Flare, in that it’s better than I gave it credit in the dedicated cycling decks, since they do actually churn through enough cards to get Zenith Flares for 5 or 6 later, and going face is a much bigger deal for that deck with Drannith Stingers and its tendency to be aggressive generally than I thought – essentially I didn’t think they could capitalise on Flare’s pressure as well as they can. I still don’t like taking it really high early, since it’s still bad outside of dedicated cycling, but it’s a strong pick at any point where you already have a couple of payoffs. I consider it a high C for now.
Thanks for reading! I’ll have more updates up as and when I have enough to talk about, rather than monthly as I was doing last time – so get ready for more frequent ones!
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