Thursday 28 October 2021

The Top 10 Companions


I have now tested the companions fairly extensively in numerous types of cube both with and without rule changes. They were pretty foolish without the extra 3 cost although it didn't make all of them playable as it could be quite hard to draft around some of the narrower conditions. Mostly it just made the good ones oppressive so I am glad they changed that. I would advise playing them as the rules now suggest with that extra 3 mana cost, if at all. While not as off the charts in cube as you might expect with all the fuss they received if played as written, the problem is that games become pretty samey pretty fast with so many of the same cards and interactions popping up time and time again. The common theme with the companions is that all bar a couple of cases are only worth running in a cube if you can have some expectation of having them as a companion. Without the potential to be a free extra card they just don't compete well at all with the alternatives. This article is an adaptation of a post I made (testing the waters!) on Reddit about nine months ago. Since then Yorion has jumped up a position but otherwise my opinions are unchanged. As played in an unpowered cube with updated rules I would rate the companions from best to worst thusly;

Lutri 1st

Having no cost to fulfil the conditions in singleton makes him an auto include in any deck that can cast him. Simple as that. Best in burn heavy red where he is a free chunk of extra push, or control where you have the time to setup a good two for nothing. Bordering on the too good even if he doesn't even get put into hand in over 50% of games. I am very happy first picking this guy. I have now banned this from my cube for being too good for too little cost. It just ruined otherwise good games where resources are running dry or there is a bit of time spare. The ability to just get a bunch of extra free stuff is just too much.

Lurrus 2nd

Almost never a companion as you basically can't run planeswalkers or other high powered threats if you want to play Lurrus and that is too much of a price in cube. You just can't draft enough muscle to win with if you want to fulfil the condition. I have yet to have a good deck that could use Lurrus as a companion, they have all just lacked power and run out of gas. Even with Lurrus surviving and getting back some random two drop every turn isn't able to cope with a lot of more expensive cards just being in play doing their thing and/or attacking. Still amazing as a card in the 40 allowing you ongoing value and the only companion that is just a stand alone strong cube card that you would still play without the companion ability. Best in decks with Baubles and/or things like Selfless Spirit and Savoir. Commonly a white weenie or aristocrats inclusion. Ultimately quite a midrange sort of card not a million miles away from Meren of Clan Nel Toth. 

Yorion 3rd

In a draft it is very hard to get a viable 60 card deck to then make this your companion, although not impossible. If you go to more than 45 picks it quickly gets a lot easier. In sealed it is more commonplace to be able to make 60 card decks for Yorion and as such it is one of the top tier archetypes. You don't even need a flicker theme in a 60 card cube deck for Yorion to be great, just a big flier for the late game with no card cost is plenty good enough. Yorion is passable in the 40 as well although not the most exciting. The card has steadily improved in cube since release as there have been more good flicker targets on top of the format tending towards slower and grindier games. Well worth including if you sealed a lot, draft pools over 45 cards, or have a flicker theme. Otherwise not.

Jegantha 4th

A surprise performer. This is quite easy to fulfil the condition for and gets used as a companion a lot. One of the only companions you can easily draft around supporting. Good gold cards tend to cost such that they comply with Jegantha. As such it is commonly found in red based Fires of Invention/Breya artifact leaning four colour gold decks and the more conventional green based four (Omnath) and five colour good stuff decks. Providing massive mana outlay and being a meaty 5/5 give Jegantha two distinct and useful modes, that of fatty and that of huge mana output. While a common companion Jegantha is rarely (never?) used in the 40 simply because it is well below par. You just don't want a vanilla 5/5 with no value that doesn't do anything else unless you untap with it. We certainly are not playing five drops just for ramp! I have cut Jegantha as it doesn't add that much to the cube experience. It wasn't played often enough, playing it rules out other cards, and it is never making a main deck so kind of feels like a utility land pick. Something that doesn't add to your count of playables and probably won't actually do anything significant. Power wise the card is there but in terms of what it actually brings to the table I am rather less interested. 

Obosh 5th

Doable as far as fulfilling the companion conditions and still pretty playable in aggro decks when you don't. Playable but not great. A kind of bad Torbran. Not a bomb by any means nor that commonly seen. To draft as a companion you need to see early in the draft. To just pick him up late and run in your aggro deck likely means your draft didn't go that well! Not a card I would bother with purely on power level and action but it is quite fun and novel. Paying three extra mana on your five drop isn't exactly the rip roaring tempo a cube aggro deck can get that exciting about. 

Gyruda 6th

Not really powerful enough if played in the 40 and too much work to get it as a companion. It is not that it is any harder than Obosh to make as your companion, just that you also have to build a deck that wants it and that is good for Gyruda as well. That isn't something you can do easily regardless, let alone when you rule out half your potential playable cards. You either need a load of really good four and six drop dorks in your deck or you need top of library manipulation so that you can setup a hit. Without this support the odds on Gyruda hitting something meaningful to recur is going to be low. Supportable if you like and best in midrange reanimate decks. Not worth the effort in general however.

Zirda 7th

You can use this as a free card in control decks with few permanents and thus a fairly easy condition complete. You can also run this if you want to run the infinite mana combos with it  (with Grim and Basalt Monoliths). You cannot run it in red and/or white aggro decks as they want to run far too many permanents that rule out Zirda. It is also only worth running if you can have it be your companion with the possible exception of the infinite mana combos. None of these things are that good, common, or importantly that exciting. The upside of a random 3/3 dork in a control deck that costs a total of six mana really isn't worth the hassle of supporting. Just not playing a Wall of Omens might well reduce your EV more than Zirda can add. 

Kaheera 8th 

Not enough support to run as a companion in limited cube and not good enough to run normally. This is all down to the number of cube playable dorks in the appropriate tribes. You can sneak Kaheera into some creatureless control decks a bit like you can cheat on Zirda. The problem here is that creatureless control decks, unlike in contructed, are really hard to pull off in cube. You limit your options and give yourself a really hard time of winning. The upside of a zero card cost 3/2 is hardly impressive payoff. I have built a tribal cat list with Kaheera as a companion and there it was outstanding. Having a lord as a companion is quite a boost to a tribe. Cats is also a rare tribe in singleton in that it has loads of viable one and two drops but fairly little payoff for being in the tribe. Kaheera capitalizes on this perfectly.  

Umori 9th 

Easy to fulfil the conditions but it is a trap. It is really hard to be competitive in your inevitably midrange dork deck without any non-creature spells. Your disruption will be sparse, low powered, slow, and sorcery speed for the most part. By the time you cast Umori the cost reduction is near irrelevant and so you just have a very costly Ernham Djinn. Umori is too lacking in power to entice as a non-companion inclusion and so with the companion mode being a trap there is little room for Umori in cube. I imagine there are some singleton constructed decks that are naturally very close to all creatures that could wind up running Umori for free but it is not like he is going to add all that much to those lists. You might even just prefer your sideboard slot...

Keruga 10th

Laughably bad if used as a companion as your deck will just be clunky slow horror. If you are never using as a companion then Keruga doesn't have the power level to include. You can just about build a constructed deck with suspend cards and split cards and the like that let you have things to do with one and two mana so as to allow Keruga as a companion but it is then just a bit more of the same midrange value stuff. You might as well just play better cards and make up for the loss of free Keruga value that way. Keruga takes the wooden spoon by being bad both supported as a companion and if just played normally. Umori at least has some corner cases he has potential in. Umori also comically won a constructed event I did involving a deck built around each companion and using the original rules. To balance the event we bid on the decks using starting life and cards and Umori just won thanks to having a bunch of life and cards over opponents. Umori wasn't quite as bad as everyone thought! 

Friday 15 October 2021

Stompy (mono green aggro) has finally arrived!


In all my long years cubing I have never been able to get an aggressive green deck to be viable. It simply had nothing over the red or white aggressive builds that come with the removal that green sorely lacks. Ramp, what green gets instead of removal, is all well and good but it tended to just exacerbate your other pre existing weaknesses. Curving with ramp, while powerful, is harder to do than conventional curving as you need more things to line up for you. It also makes you more vulnerable to removal and to drawing dead cards in the mid and late game. Historically the best aggro green builds have been those that just go with threats from the outset and forgo mana elves. Or indeed just being an elf deck and becoming more combo than aggro, but at least good! Not playing one mana ramp is forgoing green's greatest strength for no real advantage over other colours. 

So what has changed? Why is green now packing aggro decks that are top tier? It is the result of a culmination of multiple factors over a few years. Things began to pickup for green around Kaladesh and has recently hit a threshold of cards and effects that has made aggro green a consistently top tier build in my cube. 

Not only has the card pool and range of what cards do increased over time but the meta also evolves. A big factor in aggro green improving is that tempo has become more important over the years. With tempo being more valuable the benefits of ramp have increased. This is paired up really nicely with the ability for green decks to obtain card advantage in a wide array of places, usually at little to no tempo cost. It means that you can easy avoid the pitfalls of playing ramp with card advantage tools and still reap the huge tempo perks. Indeed this ability to pair ramp along with high tempo card advantage has given aggro green a very serious play style that is essentially just brute forcing a win. A lot of powerful green cards provide a mana boost even as you go higher up the curve from a selection of planeswalkers to cards like Primeval Titan, Old-Growth Troll, and the Great Henge. Plenty of other green cards are also helping you to make land drops rather more consistently than other aggressive lists too, be they finding you lands or letting you play them off the top. All told, green winds up with a good amount of mana that tends to continue growing as the game goes long. Paired with good card advantage and things can spiral in some pretty extreme ways. You can face some pretty scary things and instead of dealing with them you can just totally overwhelm them by playing two or three times as much stuff as your opponent every turn. This is typically a means of reach and is something green very much has over white aggro decks. I have come close to decking myself like this on numerous occasions! 

It is not just card advantage helping out here but also card quality. Green has the best non-blue card quality effects in Oath of Nissa, Once Upon a Time and Abundant Harvest, not to mention looting from Smuggler's Copter. As card quality effects are generally a tempo cost they are not something aggro decks are looking to pack much of. They do however make for exceptional filler in all the possible ways. They sort out curves, they add to your count of playables, they sort out mana ratios. If you have a hole in your deck a card quality spell is there to plug it up. Much as we might look at the big names at the top of the power scale to see why an archetype is getting better it is just as important to look at the bottom end of the power scale too. What is happening when you miss the mark in the draft? The answer is becoming that you suffer less if you are green. There is enough one mana ramp to go round so rather than winding up with little to none and an unplayable deck you will just have some of the less powerful or suitable options in your one mana ramp slots and a deck that remains functional. The existence of good card quality along with decent filler cards like Elvish Visionary,  Llanowar Visionary, good MDFC lands, along with a bunch of generally fine-to-throw-in-most-decks midrange cards like Courser of Kruphix, and you find that green has a very high floor. A good curve with a bunch of random good green cube cards and you tend to have a fairly functional pile. This is part of what makes red so good presently. It just doesn't seem to matter much how you mix your red cards beyond curve, you just wind up with something competitive. Green seems to be catching up to red in that regard.

The next big change is the nature of the threats now available to green. Historically it was mostly just big dumb dorks. Sometimes it was little dumb dorks but whatever it was it was held off comfortably with your standard anti-beatdown plans. Spot and mass removal always seems overly effective against green aggression. The two main ways green threats have evolved is in diversity and immediate effect. Green has more creature lands, more vehicles, more top tier planeswalkers, and more robust and unusual dorks than ever before, and many at high power levels. Lair of the Hydra, Smugglers Copter again, Toski, Nissa Who Shakes the World, Hex Drinker, Old Growth Troll, Esika's Chariot etc. These cards all tax answers while being able to apply good pressure. The quantity and high power level of cards like this has helped push green a lot in recent years.  

The second class of improved threats, the immediate effect ones, comes in two guises - those that kill stuff, and those with haste. Green still isn't great at killing things and doesn't really plan to when going aggro. It aims to simply over power anything it faces with bigger and better threats alongside more cards to play and more mana to ply them with. Even so, removal that doesn't cost you power is worth playing. Voracious Hydra is the best in this regard although some older classics are still a nice support such as Jitte and Garruk Relentless. Walking Ballista is also at it's best in the aggro green with good mana production and often some +1/+1 counter synergies. I have even seen Ugin the Ineffable getting a bunch of play in these aggro green lists. That is another perk of the archetype - being able to hit your land drops and consistently ramp means you are packing five and six drops without any cost where other aggro decks are having to make build adjustments to sensibly include that level of top end. Ideally my red and white aggro decks are not playing any five or six drops at all. 

So, to the big one. Haste dorks. This is the single biggest contributor to the overall improvement of green and it is mostly down to a fairly small number of cards. Haste is just so good at the moment. It gives you a really reliable means to secure some value from your threats, be that applying a lot of damage or planeswalker control. It also forces opponents to play with a much higher degree of respect for what you can do. With no haste dorks at all your opponent can feel really safe with sorcery removal. A Wrath will make them feel immortal! If they can clear or stall the board they can lay walkers with complete confidence and start to lock down the game. Haste is the EtB "value trigger" that aggro decks most want from their dorks as it giving you the outcome directly that you are investing your resources into doing! In essence it is like comparing Cavalier of Gales and Thundermaw Hellkite. Both are five mana 5/5 fliers but one Brainstorms for value on the turn you make it while the other does a Lava Axe! Which is better depends on what you are trying to do. In the case of the aggro green deck haste is the kind of value we like most in our bigger threats. As a direct source of card security and on-theme value, as a means of keeping our opponents in fear of what we can do, and as a means of just beating the crap out of unsuspecting people as quickly as possible! Questing Beast and Vorinclex are two newish powerhouses that have really helped green perform in this area. Both are really scary to face and as an opponent of green you are often just praying they don't have one. Vorinclex isn't only a juicy hasting threat, he is also quite a savage disruption tool that negates a lot of cards. Getting a bit of free disruption on your threats is always nice for the aggro player and not something green has previously had the chance to enjoy beyond some mild graveyard removal stuff. Speaking of which, Froghemoth, while not at the same level as the hasting legends, is still an impressive tool in the aggro green players arsenal. There are a number of land converting walkers that are pseudo-haste threats. Shifting Ceratops, Vengevine and Surrak are also all fine green dorks with haste that support the aggressive strategy nicely. I haven't even been running those final three four drop dorks in my cube lately and aggro green is still performing admirably.

Lastly I would say that green has gained some agency in recent years. Historically playing the archetype was rarely more than a case of curving and turning sideways. Sometimes you had to consider Wraths and sometimes you have to work out the correct attack but it was linear and low option density. Now we have not just card quality but also things like MDFCs, modal cards, Ranger Class, and just a lot more ways to use your cards. A number of good green cards have mana sinks on them as green likes such things. Mana sinks don't just give you an option in the late game when everything else has run out, they also give you options in the midgame too. Options don't have to be more powerful uses of mana to be situationally more powerful things to do. Animating a manland so as to kill of a planeswalker is going to generally be superior to playing something out from your hand for example. Green tends to have more of these low power options and so more often finds itself in a position where using them is the best line even in the midgame. Gaining agency is huge, it makes you far less of a whipping boy to control players and is makes games way more interesting and involved. You feel like you won the game rather than the deck and good RNG winning the game. 

Combat Tricks have gotten better recently too with Snakeskin Veil, Blossoming Defence, Wild Shape, Inscription of Abundance, and Vastwood Fortifications all being new and all being comfortably top ten cube combat tricks. They are cheap, often useful in multiple ways, often as a trick or as protection, or they are useful in an ongoing way such as a lasting buff. Mutagenic Growth remains my top pick combat trick but by far and away the best thing it does is save your mana dorks from getting Shocked it seems. Much as I quite like running a combat trick in my aggro green decks they really don't need them. You certainly don't want loads of them. They are great now and again but often sit about making you wish they were a land or proactive play. The best thing they do is put the fear into your opponent. Combat tricks will reduce the consistency of your deck and are a bit of a high roll card. I will only be playing them when my deck is so well tuned that I can afford to run them or such a train wreck that I need more playables and/or that ability to get lucky and have more than my fair share of high roll moments. 

You will note I have talked a bunch about Smugglers Copter, Umezawa's Jitte and Walking Ballista a fair degree in this article. These are all quite high pick cards in draft as they are pretty powerful, pretty playable, and let you remain more open. These are certainly some of the mostly highly picked cards early in a draft. They all not only go in aggro green decks but are also basically at their best in that archetype as well. These cards not only make the archetype better for one reason or another, they also push you in that direction somewhat and result in it getting more play. Each of these cards fires on multiple positive synergies for mono green. Ballista and Jitte both give removal options. Copter and Jitte both put small chaffy dorks to good use. Ballisa and Jitte to some degree are good mana sinks. Copter lets you access the world of fliers. Ballista loves a +1/+1 counter effect etc etc. This general suitability for a lot of the colourless cards  has allowed for aggro green to be a solid home for Urza's Saga and Karn Scion of Urza. In my very last cube I got battered by Esika's Chariot copying construct tokens. While not the easiest to piece together a construct build is certainly impressively powerful. There is a lot more subtle support for such things kicking around than you might expect. A simple Tireless Tracker can turn your constructs into monsters! 

In a similar vein to working well with colourless stuff green is also the best colour to splash with. It has the best fixing in every aspect and can make a splash work easily most of the time. You don't need to splash and probably don't want to unless the colour pair is open and you are tabling all the fixing and gold cards. Or you train wreck and need the help! It does however give you access to more picks as well as powerful and complementary cards. Grist has become a pretty common splash. Kessig-Wolf Run historically is the most common thing for green decks to splash for. Removal effects, powerful gold cards, and un-green like dorks, typically fliers like Emissary of Grudges, Restoration Angel, and Hydriod Krasis are the sorts of thing you see getting incorporated into aggressive green decks. 

Here is a quick and no frills example list of how you might build this deck. Loads of the parts are interchangeable and there are plenty of worthy inclusions that I didn't have room to showcase in this list or the following one. The bombs you really want in the archetype are Questing Beast and Esika's Chariot. Beyond that it is about getting the right curve and ratios more than it is about specific cards. You can do without specific things, no card is key to the archetype. You do want some one mana ramp but it isn't critical which. Even the likes of the Great Henge is pretty much a luxury card, a bit on the win more side. It is one of the few things on this list you could cut and replace with a card baring no curve or function similarity. You might also note that were are able to get rather more utility in our mana base than other archetypes. This is thanks to our reasonable ability to have lands and mana. The higher curve likes access to a healthy land count and the expected extra card draw allows for a bit more spice within those lands. 

23(25) Spells

Llanowar Elf

Elvish Mystic

Fyndhorn Elves

Arbor Elves

Hex Drinker

Abundant Harvest 

Smuggler's Copter

Walking Ballista

Ranger Class

Werewolf Pack Leader

Tangled Florahedron

Briarbridge Tracker

Old-Growth Troll

Kazandu Mammoth

Lovestruck Beast

Questing Beast

Esika's Chariot

Garruk Relentless

Toski, Bearer of Secrets 


Nissa, Who Shakes the World


Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider

The Great Henge

Voracious Hydra

15 (17) Lands

Lair of the Hydra

Treetop Village


12 Forests

And here is a quick example list of the Saga green deck that smashed everyone up in my last draft;

23 (24) Spells



Retrofitter Foundry

Joraga Treespeaker

Boreal Druid

Gilded Goose

Elvish Mystic

Snakeskin Veil

Once Upon a Time

Walking Balista 

Scavenging Ooze

Elvish Visionary

Briarbridge Tracker

Tireless Tracker

Bala Ged Recovery

Jadelight Ranger

Augur of Autumn

Karn, Scion of Urza

Esika's Chariot

Questing Beast

Paradox Zone

Verdurous Gearhulk

Tovolar's Huntmaster 

The Immortal Sun

16 (17) Lands

Urza's Saga

Mishra's Factory

Lair of the Hydra

13 Forests