Now that Throne of Eldraine is in full swing, I’ve been doing everything I can to get Knights get going in Standard. I’ve thoroughly and comprehensively evaluated every Knight and Knight-related accessory, and now it’s time to put it all together. There is more tribal Knight support in Standard than perhaps ever before, and I don’t intend to waste the opportunity.
So far, I’m torn between two different builds. The huge number of one-drop Knights means you can get the most out of a card like Inspiring Veteran, while some of the mig-game value engines like Acclaimed Contender incentivize a slower approach. Today, we’re going to break down these two different approaches to building a Knight deck and discuss their relative strengths and weaknesses.
Mardu Aggro Knights
Firstly, the aggressive build. If you want to get on the board quickly and overwhelm your opponent before they get a chance to react, this is the deck for you. This list is blazing-fast and takes advantage of the naturally aggressive synergies of the best cheap Knights in the format.
Mardu Aggro Knights
4 Tournament Grounds 4 Blood Crypt 4 Godless Shrine 4 Sacred Foundry 1 Castle Ardenvale 1 Castle Embereth 1 Castle Locthwain 2 Plains (331) 1 Swamp (339) 1 Mountain (343) 4 Fervent Champion 4 Venerable Knight 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion 3 Stormfist Crusader 4 Inspiring Veteran 4 Worthy Knight 4 Order of Midnight/Alter Fate 1 Smitten Swordmaster/Curry Favor 3 Murderous Rider/Swift End 3 Venerated Loxodon 3 The Circle of Loyalty Sideboard 4 Duress 3 Noxious Grasp 2 Devout Decree 3 Legion's End 3 Disenchant
On the most basic level, curving multiple one-drops into a lord is a time-honored, game-winning strategy. Inspiring Veteran means your early Knight of the Ebon Legion or Fervent Champion punches even further above its weight, not to mention turning a card like Order of Midnight into a two-mana 3/3 flier. That’s an insane rate! I see people ignoring Order of Midnight when building Knight decks, but the card is ridiculous. A flying Gravedigger on an installment plan is no joke.
Additionally, spewing out Knights like this means that Worthy Knight can do its best work, providing extra warm bodies to poke in for damage (although they don’t get buffed by Inspiring Veteran, unfortunately). Similarly, Castle Embereth is a weird lord-like effect, while Smitten Swordmaster can act as a one-shot if the board stalls out.
Venerated Loxodon may not be a Knight, but I begrudgingly include it because, in all honesty, the deck is just a lot worse without it. This list does feel a little bit like the old Mono-White list that curved Adanto Vanguard into Benalish Marshal, and the Loxodon’s pseudo-lord effect is put to good use in a deck with so many one-drops. Perhaps this list should also play Conclave Tribunal–I find Murderous Rider, however, to be more than enough.
The mana isn’t an issue thanks to Tournament Grounds, the one outlier being The Circle of Loyalty. Sometimes your dream starts are punished by not having enough white to cast it on turn four, but the card is still more than good enough to warrant inclusion. As a two- or three-mana Glorious Anthem that can also churn out 3/3s, The Circle of Loyalty gives the list a little bit of staying power.
Overall, this deck is a cut-and-dried aggressive creature deck, with only a few interesting wrinkles. The Circle of Loyalty, as discussed, offers a bit of insurance against sweepers, while adventure cards such as Order of Midnight, Murderous Rider, and Smitten Swordmaster give you spell-like effects without diluting the aggressive bent of the list.
Orzhov Midrange Knights
If we want to go a bit bigger and lean into some of the more value-oriented Knight cards, there are plenty of tools that allow us to play a longer game. As most of the red Knight cards are of quite an aggressive slant, we can enjoy a less painful mana base by cutting red altogether, and instead make the most of the slower Knight cards, most of which are found instead in black.
Orzhov Midrange Knights
4 Tournament Grounds 4 Godless Shrine 4 Temple of Silence 2 Plains (331) 2 Castle Ardenvale 2 Castle Locthwain 6 Swamp (339) 4 Foulmire Knight/Profane Insight 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion 3 Blacklance Paragon 3 Order of Midnight/Alter Fate 4 Worthy Knight 4 Acclaimed Contender 4 Murderous Rider/Swift End 2 Midnight Reaper 3 Cavalier of Night 3 The Circle of Loyalty 1 Knights’ Charge 1 Icon of Ancestry Sideboard 4 Duress 3 Noxious Grasp 2 Devout Decree 3 Legion's End 3 Disenchant
As you can see, rather than come out of the gates with guns blazing–or swords blazing, I suppose–this deck is a little slower and a little more focused on keeping cards flowing. Almost every Knight in the deck provides an extra card’s worth of value, whether by drawing one (Foulmire Knight, Acclaimed Contender), dealing with an opposing card (Murderous Rider, Cavalier of Knight), or producing extra threats over time (Worthy Knight, The Circle of Loyalty).
This deck also uses its life total as a resource very effectively, balancing paying life for card draw and removal with life gain thanks to various lifelink creatures. While the engines in this deck aren’t as powerful as something like Golos and Field of the Dead, this deck can still brawl while keeping up a steady flow of cards. On top of that, it has top-tier removal with Murderous Rider, and can recur threats with the might Order of Midnight–this list is unlikely to ever run out of juice.
Acclaimed Contender feels like a more powerful Militia Bugler in this deck, providing great stats as well as card advantage and selection. It, plus both The Circle of Loyalty and Worthy Knight, provide ample reason to dip into white (not to mention having Disenchant come out of the board to destroy both Golos and Fires of Invention). Castle Ardenvale isn’t at its best in this deck, certainly, but it’s basically free to include.
Overall, I’m still unsure about this approach when building with Knights. The aggressive deck has a clear and cohesive gameplan and executes it mercilessly. This deck is theoretically sound but has been a little underwhelming so far. You’d think having every card replace itself while also exploiting tribal synergies would be a recipe for success, but so far, I still feel something is missing here.
Into the Knight
As it stands, I believe the Mardu build of Knights is in a good spot to punish people that durdle around with lategame cards, getting in for maximum damage in the early turns and finishing things off with Order of Midnight or Smitten Swordmaster after they stabilize. I really want the midrange deck to work, but it seems a shade underpowered. Perhaps more research is required.
Nonetheless, I’m thrilled that my favorite tribe is running with the big dogs in Standard, and, win lose or draw, I’m happy to be brawling with Knights in Standard once again!