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Mardu Knights in Standard


During preview season it became obvious that Knights was the most pushed tribe in Throne of Eldraine. Knights decks were borderline competitive in Standard since Dominaria gave us History of Benalia, but they never broke through to be true contenders. Early spoils like Inspiring Veteran and Murderous Rider created a lot of hype for the tribal archetype, even with History of Benalia rotating.

We have had our hands on Throne of Eldraine cards for a few weeks now, and it seems like the verdict is that Knights are sitting this Standard season out. Aggro decks in general have had a hard time surviving the gauntlet of Wicked Wolf and Realm-Cloaked Giant. Two and three color mana bases are suffering from the lack of good dual lands, and aggro decks that stumble on mana can't seem to compete.

Call me a sentimental man; I don't want to see Throne of Eldraine's top tribe sitting on the sidelines. I hate seeing all these sweat rares go to waste! I have been working on an aggressive Mardu Knights strategy that might have what it takes in Standard, and at the very least is a fun best-of-one list for MTG Arena.

This list is the result of seeking the cheapest, strongest, most aggressive Knight cards while also finding payoffs for the 1/1's created by Worthy Knight. This is a very important point! Worthy Knight makes 1/1 Human tokens, not Knight tokens. Most of the Knight lists I saw and tried early in ELD Standard didn't try to do anything with the Human tokens. This deck contains seven cards that buff the Human tokens and two cards that could. 1/1 creatures on their own aren't doing much on the board these days, but a boost to a 2/2 is literally double the power and toughness. When you start adding multiple tokens to the board and buffing them, you start creating a snowballing advantage that can leave you ahead of other fair strategies.

Worthy Knight
Venerated Loxodon
Unbreakable Formation

Making 1/1 Human tokens matter means playing anthems that don't care about colors or creature type, and my favorite two are Venerated Loxodon and Unbreakable Formation. We learned the power of "Elephant Jesus" last Standard where the card made gw Tokens and Mono-White Aggro into serious archetypes. The proud pachyderm needs a good home this season, and this shell is pretty great. With sixteen 1-drop creatures you often get the joy of playing Venerated Loxodon on turn three, and it is awesome to have a Worthy Knight, pay one mana for a 1-drop knight that also makes a 1/1 Human token, and drop Venerated Loxodon to pump them all. Unbreakable Formation is great against wrath effects like Realm-Cloaked Giant and Kaya's Wrath, and there will be plenty of matchups where casting it at instant speed is the way to go.

Icon of Ancestry

Naming Knight is the default creature type without question, but if you have a Worthy Knight doing her thing you can consider naming Human. Sixteen of the Knights in the deck are also creature type Human, and cards like Knight of the Ebon Legion don't need a buff from Icon of Ancestry to be effective threats.

The Circle of Loyalty

Don't play this card in this style of Knights deck. The universal +1/+1 effect is nice, but the mana is too bad to count of double white and the card requires the controller to over commit. I tried this card and wanted it to work, but eventually Icon of Ancestry and Unbreakable Formation pushed it out of the deck. In too many games the legendary artifact sat in my hand useless, and it wasn't good in multiples (although you can cast a second one to make a Knight token in a pinch because The Circle of Loyalty is legendary).

Smitten Swordmaster

Now that our Worthy Knight and her 1/1 Human tokens have done their job, we need some reach to finish the opponent. Smitten Swordmaster is an underrated payoff for the tribe that is often GG on the Curry Favor side. I have won a ton of games thanks to Smitten Swordmaster off the top. Don't be afraid to cast the 2/1 lifelinker without the adventure if you need to stay on curve.

Knight of the Ebon Legion
Fervent Champion
Venerable Knight

Knight of the Ebon Legion is as good as 1-drop creatures get in Standard right now. Fervent Champion and Venerable Knight are great 1-drop creatures in a Knight-based shell. These are the cards that make the deck hum, and all of them provide a better output than you can usually get for one land. Foulmire Knight is good to play for one mana when necessary, and late in the game the little Zombie can draw you a card, but he isn't as aggressive as the other 1-drops and I wish I had a solid replacement for Foulmire Knight in the Knight tribe.

Inspiring Veteran

Inspiring Veteran is a good reason to stick to the Mardu colors (Red, White, Black). We have seen tribal lords doing good things in recent sets like Ixalan, and this Knight is no different. Don't be afraid to play him early to stay on curve. If the opponent has a sweeper or removal we have to bleed it out somehow and we have other anthems in the deck.

Murderous Rider

Murderous Rider is a glue card that holds the deck together. I tried Conclave Tribunal in its place and I was not impressed. Too often using convoke on Conclave Tribunal cost me crucial damage while Murderous Rider let me kill a blocker and have a follow-up threat the next turn. It forced my mana base to lean toward Black sources. Don't forget that Tournament Grounds cannot cast Swift End!

There are several cool Knight cards I had to cut from the list, so I want to mention why they aren't here.

Acclaimed Contender

Acclaimed Contender is a sweet value card, but this deck isn't into cards-in-your hand value. While it looks like this card is great with Icon of Ancestry, it actually competes with the card. Icon of Ancestry often creates just as much power and toughness on the board as Acclaimed Contender, and the power and toughness from Icon of Ancestry has virtual haste because it is buffing creatures instead of being a creature. In my games I found Acclaimed Contender slow. It was sweeper bait because it forced me to play out more knights to be effective, and the knight the ability found was often lower-powered than an average draw could have been if a sweeper did occur (picture following up a Kaya's Wrath with a Foulmire Knight for example).

Blacklance Paragon

Everything blocks and kills Blacklance Paragon. The body and ability is best against Simic Flash, and smart players will avoid blocks on first-strikers like Fervent Champion where Blacklance Paragon could create a blowout by gifting deathtouch. However, you can still get value out of Blacklance Paragon without having him in your deck. I have attacked with my Fervent Champion into all kinds of Beasts (Lovestruck Beast, Questing Beast, ect) and my opponents took the damage because they feared this card. Leave your mana up, swing with your first-strikers, consider using full-control mode on MTG Arena, and feel like a genius. The threat of Blacklance Paragon is better than the card itself.

Other cards like Cavalier of Night, Order of Midnight, and Midnight Reaper all fall into the same category; they are grindy cards, not aggressive cards. This deck doesn't show up to grind, it shows up to knock you out.

Tournament Grounds

Even with Tournament Grounds in the deck, the mana is not good. All the lands come into play untapped, and that is great for an aggro deck, but we are short on sources in a lot of spots. In best-of-one MTG Arena play this deck gets a boost from the hand smoothing algorithm that attempts to get you a good mix of lands and spells. Having less land overall (only 20) makes it more likely you will get lands that produce more colors. Crazy, but true.

This deck has been strong for me, and with a few tweaks and a good sideboard it could take some players by surprise in Standard. For now I will be jousting my way up the MTG Arena Mythic ladder as the one true knight from Throne of Eldraine. Who will join my quest?