Drifter’s Third Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths Limited Tier List Update – Full Analysis of Companion Nerfs alongside Final Changes
Welcome back folks! Throughout Ikoria, as always, I’ve been updating my tier list regularly, but it’s been a month since my last written update so I wanted to cover my changes since the last one, go over my thought processes behind them, and address the fact that Companions have been nerfed and what grade changes that has caused. Ikoria is a fantastic format, one of the best on Arena, so get your games in before it leaves us and we’re consigned to bot drafting on its sporadic return!
This is my third and last update before I do my M21 Tier List with Compulsion; that should be releasing on the 17th or 18th so look out! In the future, I may return and do another update when Ikoria re-releases, but the tier list is primarily intended for Human drafts rather than bot, so it will be more useful for MTGO purposes than for Arena purposes going forward, unless (as I’m hoping) we start to have returning draft formats with a Human option as well.
As a fyi for a service I perform in addition to all my articles which has the potential to help many of you: I do coaching regularly, which has been going really well, so a big thank you to my coachees and everyone else who has provided support! Please feel free to message me if you’d like to build long-lasting habits in just a few short hours and learn how you individually can best improve in whichever stage of Draft or Sealed you’d like to. While there won’t be immediate results, since Magic is a game that fundamentally requires a colossal amount of practice, I have an article here which demonstrates how much learning positive habits and mitigating negative ones can do for your game, and I try to have that consideration at the forefront of my coaching sessions.
You don’t need to be a new player to benefit: I am an infinite drafter with nearly ten years of experience, having made something like 30k gems from it so far. I have made high Mythic frequently across draft formats and, at this point, I am experienced at helping people of highly varying skill levels. My feedback is both verbal and written, and I try to be as encouraging and friendly as I can. I become invested in my students’ success quickly and regularly go above and beyond for the sake of their improvement.
How much do Companion Nerfs matter?
Companions have been busted in Ikoria, less because of the synergy element which has been so important in Constructed formats (though it does still come up in Draft e.g. Companioning Yorion was certainly a good reason to value cards that benefit from flickering much higher, and having Lutri made cards like Cathartic Reunion go from weak to insane) and more because the format is usually slow and can be quite attrition-y so just always having access to an extra card that’s significantly better than the average card in your deck is worth a titanic amount. In fact, forcing Companion drafts was right an uncomfortably large amount of the time throughout Ikoria and, when you faced a Companion deck, you were usually severely disadvantaged if you didn’t have your own.
With all this in mind, it might not seem surprising when I say the Companion nerf doesn’t matter nearly as much in Limited as Constructed; the power of the eighth card – more like eight and a half card because Companions are so much better than your average draw – still heavily outweighs the cost of the additional 3 mana, when you can pay that tax on a different turn. I think people really undervalue how important it is that you can split the costs up – Kaheera does not cost 6 now, it costs you 3 mana when you have 3 mana lying around, and then 3 later, and that is a colossal difference. I can still play Kaheera when I have five lands, I can still double spell with her; if I want to cast Kaheera + Ram Through on the same turn, I can.
That’s not to say the tax doesn’t matter; in some match-ups it can be absolutely crippling to pay that 3 extra mana such as against Cycling or the aggressive Humans decks, and one advantage that Companions don’t have anymore is that they used to fix your curve for you for free – the importance of having 3 drop creatures in your deck when you had Kaheera, for example, was significantly lower, and certainly every Companion’s power level has dipped and many of their grades have changed, as we’re about to see. As of now, I think Companions are a lot fairer while still being good; it is much more of a question whether you should throw out a bunch of cards to Companion cards, because it was almost always worth it before unless you were giving up actual bombs or a significant number of good cards, but now the line will be hazier, though I think Companioning stuff will be often still be correct.
It’s worth noting that all of the Companions are good even when you just have them as cards in your deck – even Zirda is still decent – so taking them highly will pay dividends regardless. Most of the Companion grades are closer to how good they would be as purely maindeck cards now; for some, Companion is more upside than others. Companions are still busted, but now their modes compete a lot more – do I want the maindeck curve play or do I want the late game value? How much am I giving up for the late game value? These are questions you need to ask yourself in the draft and the build every time.
I think the Companion nerf is pure upside for Limited, and Ikoria has improved as a format because of them; there are a lot more interesting drafting and deckbuilding decisions involved now, whereas you would just force them before.
Companion Grade Changes:
Remember that specific synergies are less important when you’re not Companioning the card, but it’s still good upside and a reason to include cards that you are reasonably happy to have in the first place; in a slow format like this, you will draw into those synergies more often since the game will just last longer. If you’re Companioning them, cards that are weak by themselves aren’t worth putting in there for the synergies anymore – the Companion tax means it’s not worth it, since you’ll often have to play those cards without your Companion in play e.g. Serrated Scorpion used to be good in decks that Companioned Obosh, and they’re usually not worth it anymore now (though if you have sacrifice outlets and Obosh, that can be enough).
Tl;dr: don’t overvalue specific synergies, they’re not as good anymore, but I list some of them anyway.
Some Companions were hit much harder by the change than others so here’s my analysis of each:
Gyruda, Doom of Depths S -> high A
Gyruda may cost 3 more mana when Companioned, but it has an effect that’s worth far more than 6 mana anyway. The main consideration is how much you’re giving up, and how much your deck needs additional late game – it is entirely possible that many of your decks would simply prefer to have a 6 than a 9 drop, even if free, if you have a lot of late game. If you don’t have a lot of late game, Companioning Gyruda is usually going to be better since you can just play smaller stuff and pay her Tax, and it means you always have access to it.
Gyruda is a fantastic maindeck card, and still reasonable to Companion sometimes.
Kaheera, the Orphanguard high A -> B
Kaheera is worse, since Companioning her is less exciting: she was often your turn 3 play and a great one at that. Still, the fact remains that most noncreatures in the set fall into these types, so she won’t harm you too much to Companion in your average Mutate deck in green (she will in White) and she’s still great in the late game – giving +1/+1 and vigilance to your team is fantastic whenever.
Kaheera does require you to be running a lot of creatures in her types to eke full value, so, as a maindeck card, she tends to be much better in Green than White; she’s a high B in Green and more like a low B in White. Don’t go out of your way too much; if you have good creatures in the B or A range or it will harm your playable count, just play her in the main deck and still be happy as long as you have 3 or 4 good cards in her types.
Keruga, the Macrosage S -> A
Keruga is another case of “this is a great maindeck card so we’re good” – Companioning her is pretty bad now, and I wouldn’t usually recommend it because you’re likely to start off behind in a lot of games so paying an extra 3 later on will be much more detrimental, to the point where it’ll usually be better to just have her main. What I recommended before with Keruga was taking cards like Frost Lynx, Splendor Mare, and Alert Heedbonder higher, and that still stands, but you now have to be really good at surviving whereas before you just had to be good.
I think Keruga will be something along the lines of 90% maindeck and 10% Companion; sometimes you just don’t see okay 2 drops in the right stages of the Draft and are forced into it anyway. One thing I’ve noticed is that people often try to play too greedy with Keruga – if you can draw 1-2 cards, you’re good, don’t take too many unnecessary risks. Obviously, if you have other 4-5 drops, you probably want to jam those first, but not if you’re taking a bunch of damage.
Jegantha, the Wellspring high A -> high B
Jegantha is a pure case of how free it is to meet that Companion restriction, because it’s not so exciting in the maindeck that I’m incredibly excited to have it there; it’s fine but for you to take it over cards in the B range, you want to have Companion available as an option – and even then it won’t always work out. This means that if you have a double-colour bomb or a few great cards with those costs, Jegantha is a C+ because it’s a maindeck card most likely now. Still, Jegantha isn’t really that hard to Companion, and it will often be worth it – like I said before, the value of an eighth decent card is pretty incredible, even when that card costs a lot of mana, and Jegantha will go miles towards improving your late game.
If Jegantha was merely a maindeck card, I’d give it a high C+, but Companion is heavy upside here.
Lurrus of the Dream Den high A -> high A
The greatest of all cats, once the best creature ever printed, I don’t think has actually changed too much in Draft, which wasn’t a format in which he lived up to those names anyway. That being said, Companioning him is probably wrong all the time now, where it was just mostly wrong before – the cost of playing only 2 drops or less is always huge, and the payoff is much lower now. He maintains his grade because he’s an absolutely busted card in the maindeck, a high A even, and you should be ecstatic to have him occupy one of your 40. Even if you don’t have many hits, a 3/2 lifesteal for 3 is still a fantastic rate, and fear of Lurrus’s absurd ability will often cause them to use premium removal on your 3 drop (and cards like Pacifism don’t work), and when you do draw those hits, Lurrus will really live up to that Nightmare type.
Specific synergies: Dead Weight, every 1 or 2 drop with 2+ power, cards that can sacrifice your low drops for value like Bushmeat Poacher, permanents that cost 1 or 2 and cycle like Footfall Crater, Springjaw Trap, Sleeper Dart (although I still wouldn’t be that happy to have those last two mostly). Don’t companion Lurrus though.
Lutri, the Spellchaser S -> A
Lutri is harmed by the Companion change significantly in terms of power, becoming a pure value card rather than a powerful tempo card, but his restriction is so free in Draft that he’s still great, and he will provide late game to most of your decks for no cost. If you’re giving up a significant amount in not running doubles, don’t Companion Lutri and instead have him as a decent maindeck card, but that won’t be the common case.
One misconception I find with people is that they think you need a lot of spells to Companion Lutri; you really don’t – you’re only copying one and it can be whenever you want so I would Companion Lutri in decks with as few as two if I wasn’t giving up much. In the maindeck, it is better to have decent spells for Lutri, but a 3/2 Flash for 3 is fine. Lutri just wants you to have a few cheap spells that aren’t counterspells/aren’t overly situational to be great. Expensive instants and sorceries for it are upside, but you shouldn’t count on them too much.
Obosh, the Preypiercer S -> A
Obosh now functions quite poorly in his main role as aggressive curve-topper, and is now a value card – your draw has to be pretty awkward for you to want to take 3 mana off in the early stages of the game, so Obosh is a late game card when Companioned now. Companioning Obosh won’t be worth it nearly as much, since having only odd cards pushes you to be fairly aggressive as 1 drops become a lot more important, which mean you just want to play him main, but it’s still doable if you have 1 drops that are decent by themselves like Whisper Squad or 3-drops that are good at stabilising, your gameplan is on the slower side and you’re not giving up too much. Cards like Serrated Scorpion, which were previously good with Obosh, are a lot less exciting because they’re only good when you have Obosh out, which is harder to ensure now.
Obosh is still a great card in the maindeck, often better there even, as a 6/5 for 5 that makes many of your cards much scarier, and that is the main reason he’s still an A. The potential to Companion is upside, but you should really just play him in your 40 in beatdowny decks that aren’t that value-oriented.
Umori, the Collector B -> B
Umori has gone from “don’t Companion usually, but sometimes when it’s free, bearing in mind that it’s often hard for it to be free” to “do you already have a good amount of 4 drops, not much late game, and is it free? Are you sure? Well, okay then”. What I’m saying is it’s not worth it in the vast majority of decks, and Umori is usually just going in the maindeck, where he’s great as a 4 mana 4/5 that makes your expensive creatures significantly better.
When I say “is it free”, I don’t just mean do you have all creatures – I’m also asking whether you have cards like Blitz Leech and Lurking Deadeye which can act as spells, or just a really good beatdown/evasive curve which can win you stalled games or make sure you don’t get into stalls too much. What you should be focusing on in the Draft stage, if you are trying to Companion him, is not just having all creatures, but mitigating the downsides of having all creatures, and that is not an especially easy thing to do.
Yorion, Sky Nomad S -> high A
While Yorion is harmed less than the other Companions in Constructed, you don’t want to Companion him nearly as much in Limited. This is because you’re comparing him to his other mode which is still fantastic – a 5 mana 4/5 flier that flickers things instead of one you have to pay 8 mana for across turns; Yorion is less of a late game card in Limited because he’s a great tempo pay here too. Consider your deck carefully and see how much you’re giving up – if you have to include truly terrible cards to reach 60, it probably is just better to have the great card ready in your deck. Sometimes if you have plenty of stuff to do with your mana late and other late game, it’ll be better just to have Yorion in your deck, restriction or not. If your flicker cards are really busted, that is more reason to Companion Yorion since you need to draw him more – ironically, that means you’ll draw the cards you want to flicker less so you need a greater density of them.
Decide how much your gameplan revolves around Yorion, how much you benefit from more late game as opposed to just having a great 5 drop, and most importantly how much nonsense you have to include to play him – if your deck is great and you have to mess up the curve by having 20 extra cards (remember that this means you need 1.5x as many 2 drops and such) then don’t bother. One strategy you can use is to visualise what the average rating of a card in your deck is, and see whether having Yorion brings it down more than a grade – if it does, just resign yourself to having a fantastic card in the maindeck.
Whatever you do with Yorion will be great and it’ll be interesting to decide which of his two modes you want; I suspect it will be more common to have him maindeck than as a Companion now.
Zirda, the Dawnwaker C+ -> C+
Zirda is usually only Companionable in some weird versions of Cycling and other rare decks, where you can still do that if you’re not sacrificing very much, but I’m not really rating with that in mind. That’s rare enough that Zirda’s grade is entirely about the maindeck, where it’s very reasonable as a 3 mana 3/3 with a solid activated ability. That being said, some decks will find it difficult to cast Zirda, if you’re not that heavy in the colour, so do consider how likely you are to be able to support WW or RR if you’re not Boros. Remember that if you’re splashing Red in a White deck, those Red sources will still help you cast Zirda.
Now, for the rest…
Other Grade Changes
If you’re not used to my tier list updates, check out the previous Ikoria one and my three Theros: Beyond Death ones for reference.Most of these changes I made on the tier list over the last month, not right this minute. I’m going to keep the changes shorter and sweeter than normal, since I talked about Companions so much.
- Durable Coilbug C- -> C
- Easy Prey C- -> D
- Escape Protocol C+ -> C-
- Facet Reader C- -> C
- Honey Mammoth C- -> C
- Mythos of Snapdax A -> B
- Imposing Vantasaur C- -> C
- Patagia Tiger C+ -> C
- Prickly Marmoset C+ -> B
- Slitherwisp B -> C+
- Unpredictable Cyclone C -> C-
- Mythos of Snapdax A -> B
- Honey Mammoth C- -> C
- Facet Reader C -> C-
- Void Beckoner B -> C+
- Whisper Squad D -> C-
Durable Coilbug C- -> C
Coilbug has been great this format, since it works so well with Mutate, and the format is slow enough that you often do end up bringing it back, sometimes multiple times, and it’s very good with the sacrifice stuff as well. Coilbug is much worse in multiples, so you take the first one much higher than the second.
The first Coilbug is a C+ and the second is a C-, so you don’t want to take it highly early.
Easy Prey C- -> D
Easy Prey doesn’t have an easy time finding prey in this format. By the time you find one, the target is probably irrelevant, so you just end up cycling it the vast majority of the time – and you really don’t especially want to pay 2 mana to cycle things, even in Cycling decks.
Escape Protocol: C+ -> C-
I gave Escape Protocol a high grade at the start of the format, because the effect is powerful, but it hasn’t quite panned out in many of my decks. The problem is there isn’t that much good stuff to flicker in Blue, apart from Frost Lynx, Wingspan Mentor and Farfinder, and without those merely gaining a bunch of life by blocking and cycling is less exciting. Additionally, Blue has much less reason to play a lot of good cyclers than Red or White. That being said, Protocol is great with Ominous Seas and the white payoffs like Snare Tactician, and I have still had decks where it’s very solid. This is more a rating for the average Blue deck, which tend to be more Mutate or Flier-oriented.
Facet Reader C -> C-
Facet Reader hasn’t really fit the plan that much, being a Human and therefore a brick for Mutates and Mentors. Having a 1/2 for 2, and therefore a card that’s incapable of blocking well, hurts a lot on cards you can’t mutate – if this were a 1/3 for 2, it would be far better a card in the format. The card tends to only be good in the late game.
Honey Mammoth C- -> C
I’ve reached the conclusion is something your Green decks want quite a lot in this format; it’s common to stabilise at a lower life total against Cycling and Humans, and the Mammoth helps against both Zenith Flare, Drannith Stinger, Weaponize the Monsters, and Bastion of Remembrance, while having a body that outsizes almost every other creature in the format, including Mutate cards. You still don’t take the first copy all that highly, but later in the draft, I would certainly take this card as high as C+ if you don’t have many other 6s.
Mythos of Snapdax A -> B
The problem with Mythos is that, while it’s an incredibly powerful card if you splash Red or Black in your Orzhov/Boros decks, White decks often don’t want to splash in this format, and they tend to be more on the go-wide side of things – Mythos is a lot worse when you’re sweeping really a lot of your own creatures, rather than just 1 or 2. Additionally green decks are the best ones at splashing, and double splashing Black and Red in Selesnya means that, even if your fixing can support it, it’s inconsistent to have both splash colours at the same time, so you need to be like three colour with a splash, which is rare.
As a base case, Mythos is more like a B – leaving their best creature alive is often problematic.
Imposing Vantasaur C- -> C
In that it cycles for 1, the dedicated Cycling decks are happy to take it highly, and the opportunity cost of putting Vantasaur in your deck isn’t very high.
Patagia Tiger C+ -> C
The Tiger has some awkwardness in this format, because the Humans deck don’t want very many nonhumans, and decks building around Mutate don’t want too many Humans for this trigger – they’re naturally at odds. For that reason, the Tiger ends up being a 3/4 flier a lot of the time without pushing much damage – which is still fine.
Prickly Marmoset C+ -> B
The threat of activation with Marmoset is incredibly high – the card is not just good in Cycling, but in most decks because of that; most decks in this format just have a few cyclers and that’s all it really takes. In Cycling, Marmoset is total nuts.
Titanoth Rex C- -> C
Cycling to give Trample for free is decent, but this card is especially good in Golgari with Unbreakable Bond, and there’s a lot of Ramp this format with Fertilid and Migration Path so you sometimes are able to hardcast it.
Void Beckoner B -> C+
3 mana is a lot for cycling purposes, and Black decks have a lot of this sort of effect in Mutual Destruction and Lurking Deadeye, which are better curve plays for decks like Humans which want to use their mana efficiently. That being said, the card is still great, since it lets you trade up for free, while being a solid creature later in the game – although the existence of Mutual Destruction and Lurking Deadeye can also be a negative for Beckoner there, since they give relatively easy ways to deal with the card at Common in Black mirrors.
Slitherwisp B -> C+
Slitherwisp is hard to cast, not a great splash card, and a lot of decks don’t have that many Flash cards – you really want Capture Spheres and Blitz Leeches, and those cards get taken early. PSA: Remember to pick Blitz Leech highly.
Unpredictable Cyclone C -> C-
As good as Cycling is, this is not a card you really want to play as an Enchantment, especially in the cycling deck. The card doesn’t work well with other Cycling payoffs at all since it actively hinders you from drawing more Cycling cards. Many of the cards you include in your deck with Cycling aren’t that great to cast, even for a low mana cost.
Whisper Squad D -> C-
Whisper Squad is a card the Humans decks actively want, but they still don’t want to take it too highly until they already have one – it’s a card that really benefits from tracking what cards are likely to wheel from packs, and basing your pick decisions on that. There’s no reason to play one Whisper Squad in your deck, but it gets so much better if you have two or three that you pick in the hopes that you will get there, and it is really good if you do get there in the decks that want a lot of Humans.
Thanks for reading!
- Look out for my M21 Tier List, probably on the 17th or 18th! I’ll try to remember to add a link here once it’s released…
- If you’re looking for a good draft streamer to watch, I recommend www.twitch.tv/justlolaman. Lola is a a strong Limited player and good teacher, one of the site’s sponsored streamers, and a long-time friend of mine. I’ll be featured on his stream for the early access event, right before Ikoria’s release, so check that out!
- The MTG Arena Zone discord: https://discord.gg/SPYMExR. Engage with your favourite MTGAZone content creators there, myself included!