Companions within Pioneer
With the online release of Ikoria the landscape of constructed magic has changed drastically in ways that no one could've easily predicted. Decks that previously hovered in lower tiers have turned into new format defining decks. Rally the Ancestors with Lurrus of the Dream-Den or 80 card Inverter of Truth with Yorion, Sky Nomad are but a few of the new decks in our current paradigm.
Let's go over most of the Companions and where they likely will find their place in Pioneer. In future articles, we will have deep dives into each and the archetypes that they have created or pushed to the top.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den
Lurrus of the Dream-Den will likely make the biggest impact on constructed Magic over the rest of the Companions, but this has not spread fully to Pioneer yet. In Vintage, Legacy, and Modern this card has either breathed new life into those formats or has homogenized vintage depending on who you talk to. It provides an immensely powerful effect with an accompanying deckbuilding restriction that isn't too hard to obey. In Pioneer, its ability to allow you to recast a permanent from your graveyard with converted mana cost two or less is typically restricted to small creatures. It lacks explosiveness in Pioneer without card advantage engines like Mishra's Bauble in Modern or Lion's Eye Diamond in Legacy. Lurrus has started to shine in Abzan aristocrat style decks. Here is a fairly stock Abzan rally deck from one of the most recent Super Qualifiers online.
MTGO Pioneer Super Qualifier - #3 Abzan Rally - Graciasportanto
In decks like this, you want to bury your opponent under incremental creature advantage. Being able to trade away your early drops because your Companion will be able to rebuild your board will allow you to end games with swarms of creatures or finish the game with a large Rally the Ancestors. So far this shell has been very successful with Lurrus of the Dream-Den in Pioneer, but other decks like the black-white aura's deck have shown that Lurrus will likely continue to have an impact in this format.
Jengantha, the Wellspring
Jegantha, the Wellspring has been a puzzle piece that's had trouble finding where it belonged for a while. Initially, I thought that my love of combo decks would give it a home in Jeskai Ascendancy decks. Unexpectedly, the decks in Pioneer that has been having the most success with Jegantha has been Bant Spirits.
MTGO Pioneer Super Qualifier - #5 Spirit Aggro - Snusnumrick
So far Jegantha, the Wellspring really hasn't changed these decks at all, and their game plan is the exact same. But you might be asking why would you cut a possibly crucial 15th card from the board for this five mana 5/5? Well, you gain an 8th card in your starting hand that can't be discarded by Thoughtseize, and a random 5/5 that you always have access to and will need to be answered is just worth the deckbuilding restriction. If you were a Spirits player before Ikoria, this is great news for you! The deck is still very playable and now every starting hand has an additional threat that can technically help you cast your Spirits.
Zirda, the Dawnwaker
Zirda, the Dawnwaker is an absolute powerhouse. It has breathed new life into Legacy MUD decks allowing your Grim Monolith to turn into infinite mana quite quickly. But in Pioneer the deckbuilding restriction is impactful due to the smaller card pool. Your ability to put together a good or even a functional deck is going to have to squeeze new cards in to obey Zirda's deckbuilding restriction. The lists that have seen play so far are mostly creature based ramp decks with the familiar combo of Walking Ballista and Heliod, Sun-Crowned.
MTGO Pioneer League - #14 Selesnya Aggro Zirda - ballestin93
If you played Modern in the past few years this would look familiar to the "Druid Vizier" combo decks that has been making waves. This deck will play out in a similar fashion. Play elves and mana ramp creatures and hope that your Collected Company will find you the creatures you need to combo off. In general, I think that this deck is a little too fair to really push the meta right now but if you enjoy this kind of gameplay you will definitely win some matches with this deck.
Kaheera, the Orphanguard
Kaheera, the Orphanguard is another puzzle. I have played it in two types of decks so far, aggro (cat tribal) and creatureless blue-white control decks as a creature win con. It's restriction isn't hard to obey in creature decks and in creatureless decks you just kinda shrug and keep casting Absorbs. I'm going to talk about the blue-white control deck over the tribal decks because it is more likely what you will be facing down if an opponent reveals a Kaheera, the Orphanguard to you.
MTGO Pioneer Super Qualifier - #11 UW Control - qbturtle15
If you have played Pioneer since the creation of the format, you have likely played against blue-white control. This deck is has seen very little change over its time in Pioneer, changing most recently with the inclusion of the powerhouse saga Elspeth Conquers Death. Other than that this deck will play out as it always has but with an additional win con of Kaheera, the Orphanguard as the 8th card in their starting hand.
Obosh, the Preypiercer
Obosh, the Preypiercer is one of my favorites of the Companions. It's silly odds only restriction forces some cool deck building and gives a game-ending effect if it ever hits the board. In a few of the Pioneer Super PTQs, Gruul and mono-red Obosh have had great success. Gruul, however, seems to be the way to go, as it provides flexibility and better answers to problems. Here is a good base list.
MTGO Pioneer Super Qualifier - #3 Gruul Aggro - Silvos1992
The most important thing about this deck is very simple. You need to have either a Llanowar Elves or an Elvish Mystic in your opening hand. With these you can easily skip along to your three drops including what is soon to be one of my favorite cards Klothys, God of Destiny. In this deck Klothys is going to deal a huge amount of damage to opponents, gain you a not-insignificant amount of life, or ramp you up to Obosh, the Preypiercer. There are really no wrong ways of building this deck. It boils down to throwing odd costed creatures at your opponents and winning the game. If you're a dedicated aggro player, Obosh and this list specifically should be right up your alley.
Gyruda, Doom of Depths
Gyruda, Doom of Depths is likely fighting for the most powerful of all of the Companions alongside Lurrus. With some very unique deck building a resolved Gyruda will just end the game. Gyruda's enters the battlefield trigger mills each player for four cards, then you put an even costed creature from among them onto the battlefield. First, from a rules perspective the interaction of this card and Rest in Peace effects is interesting, because Gyruda refers to that "set" of four cards it mills from each player. It doesn't care where they go, and you can grab creature cards that would normally be exiled. So typical graveyard hate isn't gonna cut it against this deck. Instead, you'll need Grafdigger's Cage or Hushbringer effects.
MTGO Pioneer Challenge - #11 Gyruda - Bullwinkkle6705
Firstly, you might be asking yourself "Wait, I'm supposed to register Clone?". Well yes. The alpha/beta card has always been a Commander favourite, but now it has found its way into competitive Magic. What you want to do with this deck is quite simple: Ramp with cards like Sylvan Caryatid, Paradise Druid or Wolfwillow Haven, resolve a Gyruda, Doom of Depths, and cross your fingers. Best case scenario is that you mill over a few clone effects. Spark Double is your best clone, as it makes a non-legendary Gyruda. This will keep the chain going, until eventually, you build up a board of multiple demon krakens and a Dragonlord Kolaghan to swing for lethal. In Pioneer so far this deck can be inconsistent, and without a card like Cavern of Souls it can be lacking against control strategies. But again since you start every game with Gyruda, Doom of Depths essentially in your hand, the deck can often stumble into a win quite easily and is just a ton of fun!
Yorion, Sky Nomad
Yorion, Sky Nomad is my favorite of all of these Companions and second only to Lurrus of the Dream-Den has had the most impact on the formats. First it's hard to call its restriction a real restriction. "I have to play with twenty extra cards in my main board?". Well that means you no longer need to make hard cuts and can just play everything including the kitchen sink. Yorion has quickly become a fan favourite in players, resulting in many interesting decklists. One such decklist is a sweet 80 card Inverter of Truth from the recent Lotus Box Pioneer tournament. However, I'll be showing off the Super PTQ winning Yorion white weenie deck.
MTGO Pioneer Challenge - #4 Weenie White - ElYallo
This deck is very value-oriented. It provides so much power from the white devotion shell, but with a ton of good removal and utility enter-the-battlefield effects. The main game plan is to win with the combo of Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista however it can most definitely win off the back of Reflector Mage and friends. Backed by doubling up on their enter the battlefield effect with Yorion, Sky Nomad, games can end quickly. You don't need to feel bad about using your permanent based removal early as you can get more value by flickering it. Cards like Arcanist's Owl and Thraben Inspector will provide you with the card advantage you need to win.
Now you might be asking what about Keruga, the Macrosage, Umori, the Collector and Lutri, the Spellchaser. Well, so far I haven't found lists that have been functional. Their deckbuilding restrictions are huge and it will take some time for the community to find them homes.
Companions are the real deal. The mere fact that you always start a game with an extra card in your opening hand can't be overlooked. I think that Companions are here to stay for a long time and the format is just starting to change around them.