By Thijs Weytens
(editor’s note: Thijs wrote this almost a month ago, some of the references in this article might be outdated. It also does not mention the changes to Companions coming on June 4th.)
Hello everyone, it’s been a while since my last article. But with Ikoria released, 20 drafts deep on Magic Arena, and Covid-19 keeping me locked at home this is the perfect time to start brewing some new Gentry decks!
The new Companion mechanic is very special and intriguing. Some of them fit in most decks with relative ease. For example: Jegantha, the Wellspring is already popping up in the sideboard of Modern Humans. Not that it really synergizes with that deck, but a 5/5 that’s always in your starting hand is just too good to pass up on.
Others, if not most of them, require you to have some very specific deck building restrictions. Making your starting deck 80 cards, or having all singletons means you need to build your “companion-deck” from the bottom-up with a very limited set of rules.
But I would like to quote Mark Rosewater here: “Restrictions breed creativity.” And I’ve been really liking the process of building decks centered around the different companions.
I also strongly believe that the Companions are very strong for the Gentry format. You’re only limited to 4 rares/mythics while deck building, and now you’re guaranteed to have one of them in your opening hand every single game!
Today I want to share a deck centered around Kaheera, the Orphanguard. Gruul with a heavy Elemental theme.
Before I get started I do want to note that I absolutely love the fact that the deck builder on MTG Arena now has a filter for Companion requirements. Alongside the other filter updates, This is making the deck building process so much smoother than before!
Also, being able to jam some test games against Sparky has proven really useful in getting a general feeling about how the deck plays out.
Onto the list:
This is an aggressive deck centered around the various Elemental synergies. You’re aiming to flood the board with little critters, play some lords (one of which is your companion), and overwhelm the opponent before they can get their game going. I’m using the term “lords” loosely here because all the buffs are different. Kaheera gives +1/+1, Creeping Trailblazer gives +1/+0 and Chandra, Novice Pyromancer gives +2/+0.
Let’s break down the card choices:
Healer of the Glade: When you are restricted to just Elemental creatures you have to work with what you got. Healer of the Glade doesn’t have the best stats, but it’s an early drop that can quickly grow to 2 power or even more. Gaining 3 life in a pinch also helps against other aggressive decks.
Scorch Spitter: Now this is a far more aggressive creature than the one above. You won’t gain any life from this card, but attack your opponent and you’re guaranteed to get at least 1 damage through.
When you combine these 2 cards, you’ll notice the deck has 8 creatures it can drop for 1 mana. Do note that this creates a little tension with the tapped dual lands. Getting the curve of 1-drop into 2-drop into Kaheera into 4-drop isn’t as trivial as in past Standard formats where you had both Stomping Ground and Rootbound Crag at your disposal.
If you are a fan of more consistency, I can advise you to try Kaheera out in Mono-white or mono-green shells, but you’ll discover it’s hard to find enough quality playables that meet Kaheera’s deck building requirement.
Underworld Rage-Hound: The only card from Theros Beyond Death. But it so happens to be an Elemental and a perfect fit for our aggressive deck. There is a little downside with this guy being forced to attack every turn. Big creatures are not the concern here, because it’s power is high enough to force the trade, but small creatures are the real problem here. You’re just going to feel bad when you are forced to attack it into their 1/1 tokens. (Or, god forbid, Cauldron Familiar)
But the upside is, a few turns later you can just escape it back. And this time it will be a 4/2!
Chandra’s Embercat: Here we have an interesting one. Besides being aggressively costed as a 2 mana 2/2 Elemental, this little guy can help you cast all of your 4-drops a turn ahead of schedule. Your Chandra Planeswalkers, the 4-mana Elementals, and even the Escape cost from Underworld Rage-Hound! Having access to this card is the reason why I made the mana curve slightly bigger than I would normally do with this type of deck. And it also allows me to run slightly fewer lands than I would normally do.
Creeping Trailblazer: Trailblazer is one of 2 reasons why there are only Elementals in this deck. Besides pumping our team, this guy can also protect itself from bad blocks with his activated ability. You should have some other Elementals around when this guy starts attacking, so I can see it being pumped to a 6/6 or bigger with relative ease. Note that it also counts itself, so even on an empty board you can make it a 3/3 if you want.
Overgrowth Elemental: Having a guaranteed play on turn 3 with Kaheera as your companion gives the luxury of leaving a little “hole” in the 3-mana slot of the curve.
That being said, Overgrowth Elemental is too good to ignore. First, it comes into play with a little buff for one of your creatures, and as soon as your creatures start dying it starts growing itself, while also netting you a little life in the process. Sign me up!
Note that when Overgrowth Elemental would die at the same time with another Elemental, you will still gain life.
[/c]Scampering Scorcher[/c]: 3 creatures for the prize of 1. Scorcher is the ideal follow-up to a turn 3 Kaheera, as you are creating a total of 6 power of hasty Elementals now! The ability grants all of your Elementals haste, so in the later turns you can throw some Trailblazers in the mix to really blitz-kill your opponent! Note that you can also play this on turn 3 if you lead with an Embercat first.
Lavakin Brawler: This might be a little overcosted on 4, but the effect seems powerful enough to warrant its inclusion. You are still a deck that plays a lot of Elementals, so once this starts attacking, you can be sure it’s going to be for a lot of damage. And it also counts itself.
Once again, Embercat allows you to make this a 3-drop. So we have yet another powerful curve play we can make:
T1: Scorch Spitter
T2: Chandra’s Embercat
T3: Lavakin Brawler
T4: Scampering Scorcer
*Bonus question: how much damage are we dealing here on turn 4? Providing there are no blocks on the opponent’s side.
Chandra, Novice Pyromancer: It’s rare to have a Planeswalker that has a mass-pump effect. Even more rare is to have it at uncommon. But this Chandra delivers just that! Chances are big you can do it again next turn, because after her +1 she sits on a massive 6 loyalty! The -1 to give 2 red mana won’t come up very often. But the other -1 can deal 2 damage to any target. This can be particularly useful for clearing an annoying blocker, killing off a Planeswalker, or just hitting your opponent for 2.
Chandra, together with Scampering Scorcher are your true curve toppers. But the difference here is that I rarely want to drop Chandra early with an Embercat. I’d much rather spam the board with creatures first, then drop her and start going to town!
Shock: Having some Shocks in an aggressive deck is always a good idea. While not quite being Lightning Bolt in terms of power level, being able to kill some small blockers or attackers is exactly the kind of interaction this decks needs. Also, there aren’t many more good Elementals left to include, so I needed to branch out with some interaction spells.
Kaheera, the Orphanguard: Having this as an extra card in your hand is just insane. It’s a guaranteed play on turn 3, that also has really good synergy with the rest of your deck. And the cost of that? Occupying 1 slot in your sideboard… I know right.
A lot has been said about Companions so far, and I think most theories lead to the same conclusion: they are very, very strong and will warp a lot of decks and formats around them.
- Runaway Steam-Kin: I really wanted to keep an eye out for rares that fit really well in the low mana-curve of this deck. Runaway Steam-Kin costs 2 mana, is an Elemental, and can easily grow to a 4/4. Occasionally it can help cast my cards when I’m low on lands and want to dump my hand on the board.
- Chandra, Acolyte of Flame: This one is here mainly for the middle 0-ability to create 2 Elementals. Using the -2 on Shock is going to come up from time to time and we also play a lot of interaction spells in the sideboard, so in games 2 and 3 we might use that ability more often.
But it’s not the primary reason we’re including Chandra here. Having an additional way to make hasty Elementals is integral to the deck, and I’m viewing Chandra more as the fifth copy of Scampering Scorcher with upside.
I can only think of 1 scenario where you want to use the first 0-ability. When you have both Chandra’s out, no creatures on the board, and you want to protect the other Chandra.
But even in that scenario, chances are big that just making 6 power of tokens is most likely the better play.
- Living Twister: This is the inclusion that will raise the most eyebrows. The idea here is to have a creature that can deal the final points of damage when your opponent has stabilized the board. Having 6 lands on the battlefield allows you to deal 6 damage with this card, spread over 2 turns. Do note that Having Chandra’s Embercat and/or Runaway Steam-Kin accelerates this clock a little bit.
Apart from that, it’s a high-toughness creature that really benefits from all the power-buffs, and it’s a 3-drop that only gets better as the games go longer.
- Cards I did not include:
- Vivien, Champion of the Wilds: Another 3-mana Planeswalker and an additional way to accrue some card advantage. Note that when Vivien dies, you can still cast the card you exiled with her -2
The static ability is very useful for letting your creatures dodge sorcery-speed removal, just drop them at the end of your opponent’s turn and start going to town!
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame got the nod over this one but if you want to go a little higher on Planeswalkers this can easily replace Living Twister. Currently, the Twister has a rather unique effect so I’m sticking with that.
- Chandra, Fire Artisan: A way to get some extra cards, a ticking time-bomb if left unchecked, and an ultimate that will probably win you the game. Not including this card in the main deck was a long and hard decision. But I wanted to keep the mana-curve as low as possible. I’m already playing 8 other 4-drops in this aggressive deck, and even with Chandra’s Embercat I felt like I was pushing it by including a 9th.
- Domri, Anarch of Bolas: You sure can include a lot of Planeswalkers if you want! Domri’s static ability is yet another buff for your board of little critters, but the +1 is a rather marginal effect that really shines if you want to ramp from 3 to 5 mana. The -2 can come in handy from time to time, but most of your creatures have high power and low toughness, meaning they won’t survive the fight. If this was a “Bite” effect instead it would be much better.
- Experimental Frenzy: I remember playing Experimental Frenzy together with Runaway Steam-Kin in the early days of Guilds of Ravnica Standard. That combination really allowed you to “storm off” sometimes. Having it here allows you to do the same thing, but you are still playing quite some other 4-drops that might clutter up your chain of spells. Frenzy is also much better when your deck includes a lot of instants, because those can be played in your draw step.
Those are the main reasons it’s not included for now. Do note that you can still cast your Companion when Experimental Frenzy is on the battlefield!
- Tectonic Giant: Also an Elemental but once again a little high on the mana-curve. Still, I won’t fault you for including this card because both effects on the card are very strong. When your opponent is still on a healthy life total you can get some card advantage, and when you got your opponent on the ropes you are almost guaranteed to deal the last 3 damage without having to worry about blockers.
That’s it for today. Thanks for reading!