I Will Never Use Yorion Again
Almost two months ago, after returning home from a local paper tournament where I have done poorly in the Modern section, live on stream I swore to never play 《Yorion, Sky Nomad》 again in Modern and theatrically sold them to make sure I won’t get tempted.
This article will explain my motivation behind this action and will also serve as a critique of the Yorion decks focusing on pointing out the numerous flaws in the deck. It is meant as a sort of response to ban cries getting louder and louder.
I have lots of experience playing Yorion decks, and I think I have a good understanding of where numerous misconceptions about the Yorion deck’s power level come from.
For the purposes of this article, I will be collating both Elemental Yorion and 4C 《Expressive Iteration》 variants of Yorion under the same name – the difference between the archetypes and how they play out is fairly slim.
Is Yorion Broken?
The Companion mechanic might only have existed for two years, but it sure does feel like ages. With 《Lurrus of the Dream-Den》 banned in about every relevant format there is, 《Yorion, Sky Nomad》 is the strongest companion available.
Discussion as to whether Modern or Magic, in general, would be better if the mechanic or at least every relevant representative would be removed is not a new one, so let’s not dwell on that point for too long.
Having a companion is obviously very powerful in any game where players would go close to extinguishing their resources – but I will argue that Yorion’s companion requirement is extremely costly.
4C Control decks and their nickname – “Money Pile” – cause lots of emotions. The less enfranchised the player is, the easier it is to lose to a Yorion deck, look up its price and think the entire game is one big pay-to-win scam.
At the same time, while we see a decent amount of Yorion decks in Magic Online results, they never really see to overcome what I perceive to be the actual best decks of the format – Grixis Shadow and Hammer Time before Lurrus’s ban; and nowadays, Izzet Murktide.
The power level of all the cards in Yorion decks is high, they play very well against creature-based decks. There are no easily discernable surface-level weaknesses and no hate cards to just solve the matchup with.
If Dredge is troubling you, 《Rest in Peace》 will always contribute in a clear and concise way. Given the midrange, unfocused card advantage nature of Yorion, targeting it feels much harder, and depending on the archetype might be straight-up impossible.
With no easy surface-level approach to turn towards to improve your matchup if you have a bad one, it’s easy to get frustrated and hopeless, thinking that Yorion is unbeatable.
《Blood Moon》 or 《Torpor Orb》 try to sell you a false promise of hating on Yorion decks, but the truth is that you don’t attack strategies akin to 4C Yorion with cards, but rather either on a more structural, strategic level during deckbuilding.
The Key Strengths and Weaknesses of Yorion Decks
High individual card quality and card advantage. 《Wrenn and Six》 is one of the stronger cards in Modern. Very strong focus on attaining and keeping board control via removal. A favorable matchup against the most popular deck in Modern – Izzet Murktide. Strong late-game against decks that need to win with creatures.
As an important side note, 4C Yorion with a heavy focus on Evoke Incarnations and 《Ephemerate》 boasts a great matchup against creature decks that play to the board. That would be tribal decks, or decks interested in playing mana dorks.
《Ephemerate》 interaction is so punishing against this type of deck that it probably plays a role in why they don’t see play. The only played decks that are truly weak to 《Ephemerate》/《Solitude》 or 《Ephemerate》/《Fury》 are Hammer Time and Yawgmoth, and even in Hammer Time nowadays we see a greater focus on maindeck copies of protection like 《Spell Pierce》 or 《Blacksmith’s Skill》.
Onto the weaknesses – Yorion decks are very passive board control decks. It wins the game via card advantage, as there is no clock. If board control is not what matters in the matchup, the onus is on the Yorion deck to fight back and stabilize with proper interaction out of sideboard.
There are countless fringe strategies in Modern that you are not likely to get paired against individually, but they always constitute enough of the metagame that inevitably you’ll run into some of them in the tournament.
Tantalizingly, every single of those matchups is very attackable, but obviously, you don’t know if you’ll end up playing against Calibrated Blast; Tron; Belcher; Burn or Valakut. It’s impossible to plan for all the fringe decks, so Yorion decks are paying a hefty price for their slightly favorable matchups against Ragavan or Hammer decks. Every time you get paired against a deck you are ill-equipped to deal with you have very low chances to win.
Realistically, in any Modern tournament, be it a Magic Online Challenge or a paper event of any scale, it’s hard to expect the few top-tier decks to constitute all of the metagames.
In fact, the very last weekend we have seen two out of eight competitors playing in the MOCS Finals event bring Wish Titanshift to the event as a bold, but effective metagame call.
Four players (so half of the field) ended up playing 4C Yorion which was basically dead on arrival against natural Valakut. William Krueger even got handsomely rewarded for his bold metagame call by winning the entire tournament!
The broader point is, that it’s not quite possible to ignore the offshores of the metagame in Modern. A slightly favorable matchup against the most popular deck sounds very enticing, but the price to pay is accepting that getting an unlucky pairing is going to ruin your tournament. Especially since the “other” category of the metagame at any given tournament can easily push 30%.
This is in stark contrast to other top-tier decks. Living End, which I view in high regard as one of the best decks in Modern, has a very proactive and powerful plan that will typically go over the top of the opponent; all that while sporting ample interaction and having an impressive luck ceiling – when Living End draws perfectly, no other deck will stop it.
《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》 decks (by which I’ll mean mostly Izzet Murktide and Grixis) are strong at playing the midrange game, but they are also ready to run away with the game every time they’ll stick an unanswered Monkey and back it up with a few pieces of interaction. It’s pretty typical for the best decks in a format to be both powerful and flexible. Yorion lacks the latter.
Importantly, the issues I outlined are why I prefer 4C Control builds over Yorion Elementals. Elementals give up that tiny bit of different-axis interaction in 《Counterspell》 in favor of focusing on the board control aspect almost entirely. 《Ephemerate》/Incarnations package is very strong but incredibly narrow in application.
《Risen Reef》, 《Ephemerate》, 《Fury》 combo, as I mentioned earlier, at this point is an answer in search of a question. That’s all before we start discussing the notion that 《Risen Reef》 is somehow a stronger card advantage card than 《Expressive Iteration》, and I can’t get behind this idea.
Besides the inconsistencies rooted in deckbuilding, there are some problems during gameplay too. Bigger decks, by their nature, are slightly more prone to mana problems.
A 60-card deck is going to be a little bit more self-correcting in matters of flood or screw – every land you remove from your deck (by drawing it) swings your land to spell ratio of cards left in the deck in a greater way than it does in a Yorion deck; just by the virtue of a single card being a 1/60th part of your deck instead of 1/80th.
The effect is subtle but meaningful. There’s also lots of card advantage in Yorion, but it’s almost all blind card draw without much card selection. To mitigate that, you’ll see Yorion decks typically run very low land counts.
When the game goes smoothly for the Yorion deck, it’s easy to feel like a god; but whenever you fail to draw 《Wrenn and Six》 early or it gets answered, or if Yorion is forced to mulligan, or just speculatively keeps a good looking two land hand and fails to draw the third, thing will spiral out of control very quickly.
A Deeper Look Into the Yorion vs. Ragavan Matchup
Earlier I mentioned that the easiest way to beat Yorion is by picking a deck that’s strategically favored. I think there’s also another way – basically, it’s to get good.
Being a relatively high-curve deck (at least for Modern), Yorion players are frequently stuck playing a single sorcery speed spell per turn. Often that leaves little room for players’ agency and leaves your fate largely in the mercy of your cards.
It’s most evident in grindier matchups, where pitching a 《Fury》 or 《Solitude》 is a very weak play that usually leads to losing, to be avoided at all cost. Without the ability to realistically use the free mode on your Elementals, often there are few options on a given turn.
Half a year of endlessly grinding Yorion in leagues in challenges eventually made me realize that Yorion decks scale poorly with players’ skill. The best illustration of that are 《Yorion, Sky Nomad》 vs 《Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer》 matchups.
Yorion is supposed to be the scourge of low-curve tempo decks. Many cards are tough to beat for Ragavan decks when resolved, and Yorion presumably should be advantaged in the late-game with an infinite supply of 《Flametongue Kavu》-style threats to topdeck, but it’s not always how it plays out in practice.
The threat of Ragavan makes both deckbuilding, sideboarding, and mulligans of 4C extremely awkward on the draw. If Yorion doesn’t overload on cheap removal, it will lose to Ragavan. Flooding on cheap removal can easily lose to a slower 《Murktide Regent》 or 《Expressive Iteration》 hand. Pitching a 《Solitude》 on turn one is a losing play, as you’ll end up giving up two spells for one in a deck (as we established earlier) prone to flooding already.
Yorion should dominate the late-game. While generally true, it’s not universal. Ragavan decks have much lower curves and actual card selection. It is not uncommon for the Yorion deck to procure a good amount of card advantage over a Ragavan deck, but raw card advantage doesn’t always translate into winning if it ends up being a pile of fetchlands and your best cards end up answered efficiently.
It doesn’t that much of a stumble from the Yorion side for the Ragavan deck to chain 《Expressive Iteration》 (a feat much easier in a 60-card deck) and wins the card advantage war even later in the game.
Common wisdom dictates that Yorion decks are favored against Ragavan decks, and I generally agree with that sentiment – but there’s also a question of degree. The matchup is definitely not free.
There is a big caveat – the ball is largely in Ragavan’s court. Yorion is the more expensive, less consistent, more powerful deck in the matchup. Ragavan has all the tools needed to win, even if the deck is slightly less powerful on a card-to-card basis.
Being more clunky, the skill cap of Yorion is relatively low in the matchup. Ragavan decks are full to the brim with 1 or 2 mana cards, and there are endless opportunities to optimize your play. My MOCS match against Grixis Shadow against tangrams back in February is a good illustration of those factors in question.
Tangrams is an excellent player, and especially in game 3, he does a great job of exploiting my decks’ inefficiencies, until I seemingly end up having no choice but to lose, despite my hand containing everything I needed. This specific match was when I started to become disillusioned with Yorion and started pondering how good this deck actually is.
Therefore, I think the matchup percentages you can gain from a Ragavan deck size are very big. Yorion is baseline favored in the matchup, but not by an overwhelming amount, and the skill-cap is pretty low.
Playing against a strong Ragavan player will feel like you are constantly getting unlucky, but that’s just the nature of playing against someone who uses card selection and cantrips well and exercises patience in pacing threats when necessary. And remember, Yorion would need to win way more than slightly over 50% of its matches against the most popular decks to make up for how bad the uncommon matchups can get.
Nowadays, I’m revisiting Grixis again, with the inclusion of the new threat in 《Ledger Shredder》. I’m not unhappy to get paired against Yorion, especially the Elementals version, as even without 《Lurrus of the Dream-Den》.
It’s very easy for the Yorion’s player draws to be flawed in some way where I can use 《Thoughtseize》 and 《Drown in the Loch》 methodically to tighten the noose around my opponent as I eventually win the game with 《Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger》 or sideboard 《Tourach, Dread Cantor》. I’m usually capable of replicating to my opponents what tangrams did to me back in that MOCS match.
That stays consistent with the way the discussion around Yorion decks goes in the community. The perception of Yorion’s power varies a lot place by place. In more casual and less enfranchised spaces, Yorion can feel like an unassailable scourge of the format that requires bans.
When talking to great players or Magic Online grinders who stay plugged in, that typically paints a different picture. If you believe that the average paper tournament level is slightly lower than Magic Online, that explains why on MODO Izzet Murktide is still king, despite Yorion dominating many paper tournaments. If you can play well and have time to devote to learning a deck, I just wouldn’t recommend 4C as a long-term endeavor. It’s a solid deck, but you can do better.
For now, I’m staying true to my vow of never playing Yorion again. Even if I occasionally miss a theoretical event where playing Yorion was the best choice, I believe my results seem to be and are going to be better for that.
However, there are some recent developments in 4C that seem very interesting to me. Some players have been experimenting with 《Traverse the Ulvenwald》 in place of the mightily inefficient 《Eladamri’s Call》, which came together in a package deal with 《Mishra’s Bauble》.
Moreover, 《Traverse the Ulvenwald》 extends your access to 《Boseiju, Who Endures》, which is quite key in some matchups in combination with 《Wrenn and Six》. While 《Traverse the Ulvenwald》 always seems better in theory than it does in practice, 《Mishra’s Bauble》 alongside 《Expressive Iteration》 and tons of fetchlands actually seems kind of attractive and it might be a solid way to try to make your deck a little bit smaller.
All that being said – if a large portion of the less enfranchised community experiences 4C Yorion differently – is the deck a positive for the format? Regardless of the power levels, I would be elated to just see Companions gone from tournament Magic forever – that has been discussed endlessly.
There are also concerns about the logistics of paper tournaments. It’s also true that all the decks that beat Yorion easily tend to have a really rough time against the Ragavan portion of the metagame, putting new decks in a tight bind (but that’s just the nature of players trying to win and competitive decks being optimized and a natural part of the game rather than a format or deck specific problem).
That’s valid; but if you are worried solely about 4C Yorion being a tier zero deck in the format, it seems quite apparent to me that it’s a tier-one deck, albeit a very flawed one, solidly behind Izzet Murktide and Living End.