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Magic: The Gathering is nerfing companions, changing the rules rather than banning them

Companions were first introduced in May with Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths

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A multi-eyed hell hound is the key art for Magic’s Lurrus companion card. Image: Slawomir Maniak/Wizards of The Coast
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The latest set of cards for Magic: The Gathering, titled Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, was released in May. It introduced a powerful new type of card called a companion. Now, just a few weeks after they were released, the team at Wizards of The Coast are changing how they work, essentially nerfing them in an attempt to restore more balance to the game.

Unlike the vast majority of cards in Magic, companions are played from a subset of cards called the “sideboard.” The sideboard is a small collection of cards that players use in organized play to augment their deck across multiple rounds. Previously, companions could be cast (brought into play) directly from the sideboard. This effectively helped to shield those cards, allowing players to reliably cast them during a game without the risk that they would be forced to discard them first.

On Monday, Wizards changed that mechanic. As of June 1, players will need to spend mana to move companions into their hand. Once in their hand, only then can they be brought into play.

“Our reason for making this change is based on metagame data and play rates of companion decks across all formats, and on player feedback on repetitive gameplay patterns,” Wizards said in an update to banned and restricted cards. “As a group, decks using companions have too high of win rates and metagame share in Standard, Pioneer, and Modern, and have already necessitated bans in Legacy and Vintage. This trend represents a long-term problem for the health and diversity of all formats.”

This is a notable deviation for Wizards. Traditionally the developers and publishers of Magic simply ban individual cards from individual formats of play. A rules change — especially to a new type of card that has only been out for a few weeks — is therefore highly unusual.

“Rather than go down the path of making several individual adjustments to the banned list for each format,” Wizards said, “we feel the better solution is to reduce the advantage gained from using a companion across the board.”

The changes go into effect for the tabletop game Monday. They won’t be implemented in Magic: The Gathering Arena or Magic Online until June 4.

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