In Unstable Mutation we take a preconstructed Commander deck and offer insights into how to play the deck out of the box, what works well and what doesn’t for that theme, and then how to rebuild the deck to be more effective. In general we won’t ditch the main idea of a deck and will stick to using Commanders available in the deck.
This article covers the new Knight Commander deck, and the new eminence Commander – Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir. Knights are a fun, medium-ish tribe. There are a few standout Knight cards, but most Knights fit fairly solidly into the midrange category, most of them dependent on attack or combat damage triggers, and a fair amount of token generation alongside first and double strike. Sadly a lot of the tokens generated are Soldiers, which sort of makes sense, but doesn’t work that well for Magic’s rules. I sort of keep hoping to see a bunch of Squires come into existence that buff Knights in various ways and also have a level-up mechanic that makes them Knights in various ways (monstrous or renowned or surviving a fight that sort of thing). But so far, no luck.
Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir
This is a pretty solid card, there’s a lot of noise about another eminence ability, and granted “you can’t really interact with this ability” is a true statement. A draw/discard (aka looting) effect is solid. But it’s only going to happen once per turn (okay once per combat, technically). So getting a bit of card selection is nice. Compare this to other eminence commanders like Edgar Markov or Inalla, Archmage Ritualist and I find myself not all that perturbed. I agree they shouldn’t go crazy with eminence – there is truth to the idea that you can’t interact with it. However, assuming the Commander is appropriately balanced to take into account the power of the eminence ability, it’s not that big of a deal. Technically you can interact with it, as well, it’s a triggered ability so you can respond to it, counter the trigger, keep Knights off the field, prevent Knights from attacking. Honestly I keep hoping to see some more Elder Dragons, nice fat expensive ones (like the OGs) each with a minor stax ability with eminence and appropriately themed, so that people could get back to making Elder Dragon Highlander decks. I think a lot of decks will be made around Sidar Jibari, and he won’t appear often outside of being a Commander – as a Commander he’s fine, nothing super exciting, obvious combat based Knight tribal. His reanimation ability is balanced by his lack of haste, evasion, protections, anything to keep him from being chump blocked, it’s not as if he has first strike or deathtouch or trample. He’s also balanced by what he can reanimate, it’s not as if there are a ton of hugely expensive or impactful Knights. There’s a few over 5 mana value, and a few at 4 and 5, and they are decent and solid, but reanimating a 5-cost Knight on turn 4 or 5 isn’t that huge.
Elenda and Azor
So paying 4 to draw 1 is not great, paying 6 to draw 3 is okay, and thus creating 4 1/1 black Vampire Knight tokens with lifelink is sort of okay, but not hugely exciting. For a 6-cost creature it really doesn’t cut it unless you are desperate to do a Knight/Sphinx deck of some type.
This effect normally lives in blue, so some more card draw in white is really nice to see. As a payoff for attacking with (not necessarily but frequently) small creatures it’s pretty solid. The secondary ability to discard a card to make a Knight is also nice, especially if you are looking to dump cards to grave to reanimate. This is a nice, solid, card draw and reanimation enabler.
This is fine for tribal decks, a little bit of nice card draw. Could get fun if it was in other colors for things like Goblins and Elves, but for mono-white you are probably looking at Soldiers or Rebels, which isn’t that huge. Potentially in some other color combinations you could do things like run only creatures of another tribe, so a Boros Goblin deck or something like that could also be fun. 2 mana value and 1 to equip, +1/+1 and vigilance and an attack trigger to grab a creature all feels about fairly costed.
Very solid Knight, as far as Knights go. Going to make your Knights get bigger and bigger, really pretty solid lord type creature for Knights, and this one doesn’t only pump other Knights.
Herald of Hoofbeats
Ugh yes, more horsemanship. Lets come up with another baffling evasion ability that doesn’t interact with other things. At least horsemanship is essentially just flying variety 2. Shadow is in many ways worse, since shadow creatures can’t interact with non-shadow creatures much, horsemanship havers merely evade non-horsemanship but can themselves block non-horsemans. And this sort of makes sense (okay sort of, sure seems like flyers could block horsemanship). 3/3 for 4 to give all your knights effectively unblockable is pretty good.
So, pay 4, add 2, that’s fine. There’s 3 other versions of this. The rolling 2 planar dice instead of one is fine if you’re doing planar shenanigan’s, but this stands more or less on its own when you really need a lot of colorless mana, yet you also have a lot of colorless mana.
This is really solid, though pricey. A Knight based lose 1 life draw death trigger on a 5/5 menace Knight is good for Knight tribal decks, and not relevant for much else.
Path of the Enigma
5 for target player draws 4 at sorcery speed isn’t worthwhile, so you’re probably really worried about this card for planeswalking, but since it’s a vote you probably don’t want to use it then either unless the current plane is really helping one player, and the need to not play it at certain times makes it even more undependable.
For Azorius or Esper knights this is a super strong buffer for your knights. Also kind of nostalgic, reminds me of Vodalian Knights from Fallen Empires.
Playing Cavalry Charge straight out of the box, the deck has a lot of enters tapped lands, a lot of enters conditionally tapped lands, and a lot of expensive creatures. The expensive creatures aren’t so terrible, because you should be able to loot away the expensive creatures, and then reanimate them from dealing combat damage with Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir in the mid or late game. The big obstacle to this game plan is how much of a value engine your Commander will be once you get him out. If you’ve got several Knights in your yard, obviously you’re going to start pulling them back out, and your opponents will likely you know, blow him up. To prevent this you probably don’t want to buy too many valuable Knights, and try to time your Commander summoning to be right after a board clear, so you can use him as a recovery vehicle.
One of the more fun interactions in the deck is Haakon, Stromgald Scourge – Sidar’s ability to loot him away to recast later is a really nice little synergy, and then will let you just cast your Knights you’ve looted. This is one of the few ways to capitalize on your eminence without using your Commander.
Rebuilding the Deck
The usual kinds of cuts are necessary, less ETB tapped lands, cheaper creatures, more ramp, more interaction.
Temple of Deceit ETB tapped land
Temple of Enlightenment ETB tapped land
Syr Elenora, the Discerning too expensive
Wintermoor Commander too expensive
Read the Bones
Temple of the False God
Temple of Silence ETB tapped land
Distant Melody replaced with triggered card draw
Commander’s Sphere too expensive, replace with 2 cost rock
Terramorphic Expanse ETB tapped land
Ethersworn Adjudicator too expensive
Painful Truths replaced with triggered card draw
Knight of the Last Breath too expensive, no synergy
Time Wipe no desire to board clear a creature based deck
Pull from Tomorrow replaced with triggered card draw
Hero of Bladehold no Soldiers, Knights only
Thriving Heath ETB tapped land
Thriving Moor ETB tapped land
Thriving Isle ETB tapped land
Fell the Mighty not consistent enough board clear
Knights of the Black Rose too expensive
Aryel, Knight of Windgrace fun but too expensive activated ability
Arvad the Cursed not enough legends
Josu Vess, Lich Knight too expensive for payoff
Sigiled Sword of Valeron too expensive
Vona, Butcher of Magan too expensive
Maul of the Skyclaves too expensive
Promise of Loyalty why board clear a creature based deck
Adeline, Resplendent Cathar no Soldiers, Knights only
Xerex Strobe-Knight just personal taste
Ichor Elixir too expensive, replaced with cheaper rocks
Conjurer’s Mantle enough card draw selection already
Path of the Enigma too expensive, replaced with triggered draw
Focusing in on 3 cost evasive Knights lets us guarantee lots of early combat damage and lots of loot triggers for Sidar. Most of the expensive creatures are cut, with a few left to carefully bury. The deck has lots of redundancy in 3-cost evasive Knights or Knights with a solid payoff, so feel free to loot away a couple one you have one or more in play to generate triggers off of. The deck also includes some reanimation sources, so you can safely loot away a big Knight then just put it into play without needing to risk bringing out Sidar and getting an attack in. I’m also of the opinion that demonstrating this versatility, that you’re not purely depending on Commander combat damage triggers, will actually make them less likely to stop or blow him up when you do summon him.
The real successful play pattern is to ramp on turn 2 with a 2 mana rock, turn 3 a Knight with evasion and some interaction held up, and turn 4 one of your combat draw triggers (Bident of Thassa, Coastal Piracy, or Reconnaissance Mission) and start wailing away with your evasive Knights. Drawing 2 and discard 1 a turn should let you continually hit land drops, ramp, and put out more Knights. This lets you put pressure on life totals into a mid-game anthem or two, either coming from artifacts or semi-lord creatures that pepper the deck.
A neat trick, regarding Haakon, Stromgald Scourge since he allows the casting of Knight cards from your graveyard, this includes the two tribal changeling cards, since Knight is a creature card. So you can simply cast Crib Swap and Nameless Inversion, over and over, if you want. Haakon doesn’t have an exile clause (probably because nobody thought of this, not that powerful combo set apart by many sets), so you can cast either spell as many times in a turn as you have mana.
Closing out the game may be somewhat difficult, since combat based decks frequently struggle to win, but repeated evasive Knights backed up by anthems should be enough to grind out people’s life totals, and the various value engines.
The Circle of Loyalty anthem
Cathars’ Crusade anthem
Coat of Arms anthem
Counterspell basic control card
Nameless Inversion combo with Haakon, fun
Crib Swap combo with Haakon, fun
Cavalier of Night recursion and reanimation target
Urza’s Incubator Knight cheapener
Wayfarer’s Bauble ramp
Wonder loot away for evasion
Dauthi Mercenary 3-cost evasive Knight
Soltari Lancer 3-cost evasive Knight
Soltari Crusader 3-cost evasive Knight
Triumphant Adventurer cheap Knight with useful trigger
Nadaar, Selfless Paladin cheap Knight with useful trigger
Unearth reanimation spell
Animate Dead reanimation spell
Reanimate reanimation spell
Necromancy reanimation spell
Dance of the Dead reanimation spell
Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire
Agadeem’s Awakening // Agadeem the Undercrypt reanimation spell
Dimir Signet 2-cost rock
Talisman of Hierarchy 2-cost rock
Talisman of Dominance 2-cost rock
Coastal Piracy triggered card draw
Reconnaissance Mission triggered card draw
Bident of Thassa triggered card draw
Battle Angels of Tyr Knight card draw draw and evasion
Nymris, Oona’s Trickster Knight card draw draw and evasion
Paladin Class anthem protection
Smuggler’s Share card draw and ramp
And They Shall Know No Fear wrath protection and pumper
Knight-Errant of Eos potentially big card draw
This deck should hang pretty well at medium to high tables, and casually overrun battlecruiser type decks through its consistency and focus, combined with a long-term value plan and low initial creature costs to start snowballing.
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