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Budget Mardu Knights


It's been a while since I've written about any sort of aggro deck, let alone one based on a tribal theme. Even more rare is the ability to build a consistent deck with more than two colors while still being on budget. With Tournament Grounds costing about a quarter a piece, though, as well as plenty of Knight support printed recently, we've got everything we need to slay a dragon, rescue a princess, and make it home in time for dinner at the round table!

Cost: $20 at the time of publication

The Core

Inspiring Veteran
It's rare for any land to be considered core to a deck, but Tournament Grounds is one of the primary reasons this strategy is even possible at the price we were able to achieve. This is a tri-color land that does not come into play tapped. So, we're able to more consistently cast any of our Mardu-colored knights earlier than we otherwise could, negating the tempo loss forced on us when playing other budget lands.

Aside from the above-average mana fixing Tournament Grounds provides, you can't get much more core than a tribal lord in a tribal deck. A single Knight Exemplar costs about half of this deck's final value, so there's no way we'd be able to play her without heavy losses. Inspiring Veteran, though, is cheap both in mana value and monetary value. And with the number of tokens we're going to be spitting out, his overall value to the strategy is going to be near immeasurable.

The Backup

There's a lot to consider when choosing which knights to populate your army with. In the 1-drop slot, you can't do much better than Fervent Champion. The souped-up Raging Goblin buffs other knights whenever he attacks, though we'll pretty much never use his equip ability in this list. Venerable Knight is an on-theme Savannah Lions that also strengthens our other armored allies should he pay the ultimate price for his lord. Finally, Forsworn Paladin brings some evasion to our smaller threat lineup, gives even more mana fixing with his treasure tokens, and just like the aforementioned 1-drops, has the ability to beef up his brethren.

The rest of our creature lineup is made up entirely of 2-drop treats. Corpse Knight brings a hefty amount of reach to our aggro potential. Paired with our two token producers, Skyknight Vanguard and Worthy Knight, it's not uncommon to just poke and prod our opponent to death within a few turns. Smitten Swordmaster's Adventure also takes advantage of the full battlefield, even gaining us life lost to attacks or Forsworn Paladin activations. It's just a disappointment that neither of the token spawners actually make knights to add to Swordmaster's adventure burn.

Wintermoor Commander is a respectable wall that also helps us go aggro with Skyknight Vanguard and other core knights without worry that they'll be lost in combat.

With so much focus on filling the board with threats, we don't have much room left for noncreature spells. Joust is our on-theme removal of choice. While not as powerful or versatile as other options in Red, it fits our theme, and is not without its uses. Knights' Charge is another burn option for us, and, just like Swordmaster, it provides some healthy HP recovery too. Should the game go on long enough, the tribal enchantment gives us late-game potential, reviving all knights lost in previous skirmishes. This has the potential to trigger one or more Corpse Knights, possibly killing an opponent without the need to attack.

Playing the Deck

Forsworn Paladin
The deck's best turn-one play is Fervent Champion, who's haste ability allows for instant aggression. Following up with Inspiring Veteran is ideal if damage output is your goal, but an early Skyknight Vanguard or Worthy Knight means you get the most out of your token production potential. Make your choice based on whether or not you see opposing blockers, or if you think you'll need some of your own.

The stat boosts from your small knights are best placed on creatures with evasion, like Skyknight Vanguard or Forsworn Paladin, but any knight will do in a pinch. It should be noted that Paladin's buff can be activated at instant speed and as many times as you want. This makes him a great mana dump in the late game, and helps push for large amounts of damage when paired with Skyknight Vanguard. It also makes Fervent Champion's First Strike much more relevant in the later game, especially if you can pay with treasure mana and give him deathtouch.

Additional Options

Dauntless Bodyguard, Foulmire Knight, Knight of the Ebon Legion, and War Falcon are all additional 1-drop options. Bodyguard gives great protection for your more important knights, but he's not as good as a turn one play. War Falcon Is one of the most promising. Even though it's immobile without an ally, a 2/1 flier for one mana is definitely a threat worth considering.

Anyone who wants to make more use of Fervent Champion and other equipment support related to knight should look definitely into Steelclaw Lance. It's best paired with creatures with evasion, like Skyknight Vanguard. Sigiled Sword of Valeron is expensive to get online, but makes knight tokens with every attack. Though not as strong, Shining Armor is another equipment option that could save knights from damage-based removal thanks to its Flash ability.

Acclaimed Contender could bring more consistency and draw power to the list, and Belle of the Brawl helps with aggression. Should you have a bottomless wallet, Knight Exemplar is a must that makes board wipes a non-issues. Another expensive option is Kinsbaile Cavalier, which hastens your clock dramatically. If you're like me and want to keep your spending down to a minimum then Valiant Knight is another lord option which can act as a pseudo Cavalier if you have the mana for it.

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