Archetune-Up - Knights of the Black Rose
(Marchesa's Decree l Art by Chris Rallis)
The King is Dead! Long Live the Queen!
Hello, and welcome back to Archetune-Up, a weekly article series devoted to tweaking a deck with the help of the EDHREC Theme pages!
This week we're back with a tribal deck, but not just any tribal deck, one that is dear to my heart: Knight tribal! The first deck I ever played was the M13 Sole Domination precon, which focused around creatures with Exalted. Two of these creatures, Knight of Glory and Knight of Infamy, I loved so much that their prints now hang in my living room. I believe it is my attachment to these two that caused Knights to become one of my favorite tribes, so I was incredibly invested while writing this article.
Knights are an aggressive tribe centered in white and black, then branching out to red, green, and then blue respectively. They focus on overwhelming the board with solid, on-curve bodies, combat prowess, and expansive numbers. Over the past two years, Knights have been getting quite a bit of love. Dominaria, Core 2019, and Throne of Eldraine have all had a Knight theme in some capacity, and the tribe has since flourished thanks to this attention. When trying to determine an appropriate commander for our band of paladins, though, things can get a little muddied.
As much as I like Aryel, Knight of Windgrace's and Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale's direct support for Knights, I started building this deck as a Kenrith, Returned King list. This was due to two reasons. First, being an aggressive tribe, we can sometimes struggle with card advantage. Kenrith fixes this by literally saying "draw a card" in his text box while also giving us a way to bring our creatures back from the graveyard with his last ability. The second reason is entirely for flavor. Who is better to command a Knight's deck than their liege, themself?
Following that line of thinking, I had another idea, and I left it up to Twitter to decide...
And with three hours, and 90 votes, (and a small spelling error), a decision was reached!
Kenrith wasn't the only royalty who had card advantage attached to them, though. Queen Marchesa also fit this description perfectly, and still included the three colors where Knights were most plentiful.
Average Marchesa Knights by EDHREC
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The average Marchesa list seems to be split between a few competing strategies. It wants to support go wide aggression, Equipment, and Hakkon, Stromgald Scourge (yes, I consider including Haakon in a deck to be its own theme). Each one of these strategies is solid on its own, but if we try to make them all work in a single deck, it is going to get too muddied and ultimately lose focus.
I decided to follow the aggressive, go-wide path for this deck in order to capitalize on the number of anthem effects this strategy has and the ability to help take back the Monarch if an opponent steals it from us.
After I began brewing, though, I decided that I was going to structure this Archetune-Up a little different. I'm going to first touch on the most important cards I added in our completed deck and then run down key inclusions from the other strategies I talked about earlier. We're going a bit wide today, ourselves, but I feel like I'd be doing a disservice to our gallant champions if I didn't.
Leading the Charge
In order to keep the deck as tight and focused as I wanted, there were one of three categories that each of the fourteen cards I added fit into; Knights, anthems, or support.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the most important part of a tribal deck is the tribe, itself! I ended up cutting eight of the off-theme Knights, like Danitha Capashen, Paragon and Syr Conrad, the Grim, in favor of six others that benefit the tribe or our deck more. Ultimately, the Knights I included consisted of both Cavalier of Flame and Cavalier of Night, Corpse Knight, Foulmire Knight, Phyrexian Crusader, and Wintermoor Commander.
The first three Knights are here to help push our go wide strategy, benefiting and/or taking advantage of the fact that we will be producing so many bodies. The Cavaliers are a bit mana-intensive, but they are some of my favorite cards printed recently, so I wanted to make sure to try and include them. Foulmire Knight has the ability to be similar to a deathtouch-ing Dusk Legion Zealot in our tribe and is always a solid inclusion. Phyrexian Crusader is a huge pain for our opponents to deal with and only gets better with our multiple anthem and double strike effects that our deck had included naturally. Finally, Wintermoor Commander is another deathtouch-er whose toughness grows the more Knights we have. Thanks to this, we can attack into our opponents with impunity while protecting another Knight we control by granting it indestructible!
A lot of our Knights are 2/Xs and won't have much of a chance against the common, larger creatures of our format. To combat this, I made sure that the deck had an ample amount of anthems to give us a fighting chance. To round out the anthems already in the deck, we have added Dictate of Heliod, Shared Animosity, and True Conviction.
The first two, Dictate of Heliod and Shared Animosity, are two traditional anthems, pumping our entire team's stats across the board. Dictate is a versatile anthem and a combat trick for a really good rate, while Shared Animosity allows each of our creatures to become incredibly strong depending on how many Knights we send in to attack! The last card, True Conviction, is not a "true" anthem, as it doesn't modify power or toughness, but giving double strike is basically doubling power, right? Conviction helps us close out games and win races against other aggressive decks. It only gets better when combined with other anthems, of which we are running a plentiful amount!
Our final category, support, is a potpourri of various cards that help smooth out our deck and patch up some of its weak points. Cards in this section consist of Kindred Dominance, Land Tax, NIght's Whisper, Painful Truths, and Teferi's Protection.
Kindred Dominance joins our suite of removal as a way to take out other creatures at the table while leaving our board unharmed. This is a very important and powerful effect for an aggressive tribal deck that hates seeing blockers on the other side of the field. Land Tax, Night's Whisper, and Painful Truths all give us card advantage. Land Tax smooths out our land drops while also fixing our colors. Night's Whisper and Painful Truths are more traditional forms of card advantage, exchanging life for cards, something that a deck like ours has no issue complying with. Last, Teferi's Protection is here to save our permanents from unscrupulous board wipes and other shenanigans our opponents may wish to cast. It provides a function similar to the already-included Boros Charm, but on a much grander scale, completely phasing us and our board out from the game and leaving us untouched in case something catastrophic happens.
Suited Up, Ready to Ride
Queen Marchesa's average Knight list has an Equipment sub-theme thanks to the inclusion of quite a few cards, two of them being Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale, and Sigiled Sword of Valeron. If we choose to pursue a more Equipment-based list, as much as we want to keep it a Knight tribal deck, we will need to end up adding in a few more creatures of differing types in order to keep the deck strong and cohesive. Syr Gwyn's page is the most logical choice to look at for this style of deck, but let's ignore the commanders right now. Marchesa, Gwyn, it doesn't matter, an Equipment-focused Knight deck still needs the same integral pieces!
Two important creatures for this deck, which luckily happen to be Knights, are Puresteel Paladin and Danitha Capashen, Paragon. Both of these care about Equipment, albeit in different ways. Cost reduction, cantripping, and minimizing equip costs are all powerful abilities that we love in this kind of build. We can combine these effects with other cards like Sram, Senior Edificer, Sigarda's Aid, and Leonin Shikari to make sure we're rewarded for playing our Equipment while also letting us pull off fun and crafty combat tricks with them.
A good way to bake card advantage into this kind of strategy, aside from Puresteel Paladin and Sram, Senior Edificer, is through tutors and various Equipment, themselves. Stoneforge Mystic, Stonehewer Giant, and Steelshaper's Gift, alongside cards like Mask of Memory, Rogue's Gloves, or Sword of Fire and Ice, can all provide us with different forms of card advantage. Having an abundance of tutors to help pick out whatever Equipment we need helps us out immensely. Using these tutors, we can snag Equipment that draw us cards, like the three mentioned above, or even something to brute force our way through opponents' defenses like Embercleave or Batterskull.
That being said, while the commanders may not impact the creatures or other synergistic cards we run, it will impact what Equipment we include. Something along the lines of Colossus Hammer functions much better in a Syr Gwyn deck than it does in Queen Marchesa, so that is something to keep in mind.
The last thing I should touch on is the strength of Sunforger in a deck like this if built around properly. In Mardu colors, we can use Sunforger to increase our deck's versatility by an incredible amount. We can pull out Boros Charm to save our board, Anguished Unmaking to remove something before it comes back to our turn, or even Rakdos Charm to punish a bevy of different strategies. In a deck including Sunforger, it is best to build around it, and as such, tutors become even more important in this kind of strategy.
Vows that Bind to the Grave
This last theme we'll go over is my favorite, and can work in any Knight deck that includes black in it. This is a graveyard-based Knight deck focused around Haakon, Stromgald Scourge.
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge is used to help combat most aggressive decks' Achilles Heel; card advantage. Like I went over in my God-Eternal Oketra article, card advantage isn't purely drawing cards from your deck, it's producing more cards than your opponents and overwhelming them with value. If we can waste every opponent's removal spells and simply just keep replaying our creatures until they don't have anymore answers, that's still card advantage. This is the reason to centralize a Knight deck around reanimation and Haakon, specifically. We want to still be aggressive, but we can also shift gears to outlast opponents now, too, giving us a better long game if we can stick the right pieces.
Haakon's page gives us some good ideas for inclusions, but he is a bit of an odd commander since he can't be cast from the Command Zone. This means that his page has a lot of niche cards that other Knight commanders wouldn't use. He's also restricted to mono-black, too. While this isn't an inherently bad thing, it forces us to take other Knight decks, like Marchesa, Kenrith, and even the reanimator theme, into consideration since we can't fill out a deck just from his page.
In this deck, we need to make sure we can protect, tutor for, or have a way to remove Haakon from our hand in case we draw him. For all intents and purposes, Haakon is basically our hidden commander. We don't want to fold to a Bojuka Bog or Scavenger Grounds either, though, so we need to bake in other ways of recursion in case our opponents are able to deal with Haakon for good.
This kind of deck loves things in their graveyard, and there are no better tutors to synergize with that than Entomb, Buried Alive, and Final Parting. These cards will tutor a card into our yard as opposed to our hand, which is exactly what we want. If you have access to blue or green, like in a Kenrith, Returned King deck, you also have access to Intuition, and Jarad's Orders, as well! These cards aren't the only way we can revolve the deck around Haakon, though.
If he, along with reanimation, is the core of your strategy, card-filtering effects like Faithless Looting, Thrill of Possibility, Dark Deal, or Frantic Search will help us fill up our yard. They'll also give us outlets to pitch Haakon into the bin if he should unfortunately end up in our hand. Call the Bloodline and Olivia, Mobilized for War also perform this function since they will trade Haakon or useless cards to turn into advantages for our army!
We can't let Haakon be our only way to reanimate our Knights, though. If he unfortunately gets exiled, or if we can't tutor or draw into him, we need backup plans, which is where cards like Immortal Servitude, Return to the Ranks, Living Death, and Patriarch's Bidding come in.
The first two, Immortal Servitude and Return to the Ranks, can easily be built around with an aggressive, low-to-the-ground strategy that utilizes anthems to help our small Knights have a lasting impact in the late game. This contrasts with Living Death and Patriarch's Bidding, which can slot into any of these decks. These last two have no requirements aside from the creatures being in the graveyard, meaning that they are perfect catch-alls for these lists.
If we expect our Knights to be "dancing" in and our of the graveyard, we can make sure to include the aforementioned Corpse Knight, Impact Tremors, or Purphoros, God of the Forge to help increase our reach into our opponents' life totals, as well, giving us another angle of attack.
There is a lot of flexibility and nuance to a graveyard-based Knight deck. We can focus on bringing back high-costed Knights to cheat on mana, or conversely focus on bringing back a lot of smaller ones to overwhelm board states. Our means of doing so, aside from Haakon, are completely different, as are our ways to get there since we have so many colors at our disposal. This strategy is deep with a lot of room for customization and personalization, should you choose to pursue it.
Loyalty to the Throne, and Those Upon it
Regardless of the commander, there are a lot of options to pursue when deciding to build a Knight tribal deck. Aryel, Knight of Windgrace is certainly a strong option, and is probably the safest overall. But, if you decide to branch out into other colors, a plethora of other strategies open up to us thanks to this tribe's incredible flexibility.
Queen Marchesa's average list embodies this, giving us three different options to build around and supplying the colors to do each of them effectively. She is the kind of "generic" commander that is exactly what our format wants: one that is fun, interesting, balanced, and can support an incredible amount of different archetypes. Just take a look at all of her options!
This week's article, much like the last week's, was something a bit new for Archetune-Up. Please let me know your thoughts on these kinds of layouts for a future article once in a while. Did you like the more broad approach, or did it become too unfocused? Do you prefer a tight, tuned article, or do you enjoy touching on multiple strategies in the same theme? I'm interested to hear your thoughts, so please make sure to share them!
If you’d like to reach me I’m quite active on Twitter (@thejesguy) and have an email that I do my best to respond to (firstname.lastname@example.org). If you have any comments, questions, concerns, or anything else of the sort, please don’t hesitate to leave them below or get in touch! I'll see you next week, my friends!
Archetune-Up Marchesa Knights
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