When Ikoria’s spoiler season ended, one of the first things I looked for was for any tools to improve the Mardu Knights decks that had a strong run during Throne of Eldraine. While there were no new knights (boooo!), there were indeed some innovations to make the archetype relevant again. I was in the midst of playtesting a Jund Knights deck when I saw the Mardu build that Sol4r1s took to #14 Mythic, and was immediately impressed. While I’m still tinkering with my Lurrus Jund Knight Adventures deck, I’ve been climbing the ladder with a build of the Sol4r1s deck modified for Best of One.
This is an impressively effective deck, especially for one that barely gained anything from the new set. It goes right to the face most games, but it can also play the midgame through building a wider army and wearing down the opponents with Corpse Knight. Keep in mind too that Best of One favors proactive decks that lean into their strengths, especially in an early metagame that has a ton of different decks floating around. If you try to counter all the decks, you’ll end up with a deck that does nothing. Mardu Knights takes a cue from Mono Red during Theros and embraces its synergy and strengths, daring other decks to stop it.
As far as results go, I misplayed this deck to a 6-3 record that should have been 7-2 when I failed to leave open mana on turn four for an Unbreakable Formation against an Azorius Yorion deck in the Standard Event. It has also gone just under 70% in my first 30ish games. This deck rocks, but with the way this metagame is shifting, it may not rock for long. Still, I think there is enough sweeper protection in the deck to give it some resilience as the metagame shifts.
BO1 Mardu Lurrus Knights by Red5ive – May 2020 Season
An ideal opening curve in this deck is probably Venerable Knight T1, Skyknight or Fervent Champion into Knight of the Ebon Legion T2, then Corpse Knight and a one drop on Turn Three. That’s going to vary a lot though, based on what you are facing. On the upside, you’ll know what your opponent’s companion is when you start picking whether to Mulligan or not, which can provide guidance on what they might play before they even get a chance to take a turn, assuming they are playing a Companion of course. Just remember that blade cuts both ways.
Many of the cards in this build are exactly what you would expect for pretty obvious reasons. Fervent Champion, Knight of the Ebon Legion, and Venerable Knight are the best one drop knights out there. Blacklance Paragon is a removal spell disguised as a knight; one you should not forget can still be cast at instant speed from the graveyard via Lurrus, but only during your turn.
One of the first tweaks I made from the Sol4r1s build was to push up the number of Corpse Knights from two to four. This card combos so well with Worthy Knight and Skyknight that it’s one of the first creatures I want to get down, and I always want to have one in my opening hand. Doubling up on them is even better.
Skyknight versus Worthy Knight is a question I had to weigh; pushing up to four Corpse Knights meant a card had to come from somewhere and I opted for moving down to Three Worthy Knights. I didn’t want to pull away from any of the one drops and through a variety of other factors ultimately the choice came down to these two cards. I made the call to stick with four Skyknights for two simple reasons: first, there isn’t a ton of flying in the metagame so the Skyknight is going to have a really good chance of being able to attack and trigger its ability. Meanwhile, what flying is around is pretty annoying and having something you can get airborne even to chump block can be a gamesaver. So, the Skyknight gives more ability to take advantage of that opening and to deal with the threats when they do exist. The second is that the Skyknight doesn’t need any other cards to trigger its ability, while Worthy Knight does. There will come times when you have Worthy Knights out but no creatures to cast, so no chance to trigger it and consequently trigger Corpse Knight. On the flip side, the Soldier from Skyknight is committed to the attack attack while the Human from Worthy Knight is not, so there’s a reasonable argument to go the other direction depending on your attitude. In an aggressive deck, I think Skyknight is the better choice.
Stormfist Crusader is a card that is going to be very dependent on the specific portion of the metagame you’re facing. If you’re seeing a lot of Cycling decks, Lurrus decks, Sacrifice… You might want to cut the Crusader back. Giving cycling and other aggressive decks more cards is a bad idea, and there were a lot of games where I just held it in my hand because I didn’t want to give that edge to them. On the other hand, if you’re playing more control decks, then drawing extra cards favours you as it increase the frequency of threats you can deploy and that they have to answer. This is the card I’d trim back for a fourth Worthy Knight, if I were inclined to move up to four.
The Companion – Lurrus
Oddly, this is a card I don’t play nearly as often as I would expect. Usually it’s something I play to recover from a sweeper; if you’re dropping it turn three, either the game has taken a really interesting twist or you’re playing it wrong. The best way to play Lurrus is when you can also immediately use his ability, so you’re not just getting a one card advantage, but two or more. Playing Lurrus while holding Fight as One in hand in the hopes of prompting (and immediately blunting) a sweeper is a pretty cruel little trick to play as well.
Cards I playtested with but left out for various reasons include Shadowspear, which has been a personal favorite of mine and which has provided solid value as a two-of in the deck but decided to pull from the final build in favor of the simply having more Knights in the deck. I also messed with Mire’s Grasp for recurring removal via Lurrus, but just like with the Shadowspear, the value it brought wasn’t enough to offset the loss of Knightly value. Order of Midnight is a Knight I tested with but which didn’t make the final cut as well, the ability to bring back Lurrus is huge, though the Companion got exiled as often as not which puts it out of reach for the Adventure. Rimrock Knight also got tested and so did Joust. Depending on your metagame and play style, any of these could be viable alternatives. I’d pull Foulmire Knight or Stormfist Crusader if I were looking to make some changes.
This is a Lurrus deck, so you know the manacurve is probably going to be pretty short. Based on what this deck needs to do, 21 lands felt just right when looking at the probability charts. Tournament Grounds is the card that gives this deck an extra kick that literally no other deck has in Standard. It’s also why you don’t see any Savai Triomes in here; the Triomes are just too slow in a deck this fast. Twelve shocklands is a lot and they’ll hurt, but most of the time you’ll want to pay the 2 life. The Knights in this deck synergize so well that building your board up slower is just going to result in a loss.
When assessing whether to mulligan, keep in mind that if your opponent is playing a Companion, you’ll be able to see what that Companion is. If you see Lurrus up there, you will probably want to pass on any Stormfist Crusaders. On the other hand, if you see Yorion or Keruga, then Fight as One or Unbreakable Formation are cards you’ll want to place extra value on in your opening hand to guard against sweepers. Neither situation is an automatic Mulligan; if you have a good hand otherwise, then stick with it.
Look to have two to three lands in your opening hand; with 21 lands in the deck and hand smoothing in play, you should have 2-3 lands in hand about 90% of the time. Having all three mana colors in you opening hand is also a high priority, as is making sure you have a source of white mana outside of Tournament Grounds. Don’t forget that Tournament Grounds won’t cast Fight as One or Unbreakable Formation. I might play a one land hand on the draw with Tournament Grounds and a really good set of one-drops, but it would have to be something like a pair of Fervent Knights along with a Worthy Knight or Knight of the Ebon Legion. Even then I’m not sure I’d keep it.
On the draw, you should make sure you have something you can play T1. With 14 one drop creatures in the deck, your odds of that are pretty good but ti can still happen that you draw a hand full of two-drops.
On the play, having at least one one-drop is still valuable, but I’ve had a few hands I kept where there were a lot of high synergy cards in the opening hand, such as a couple lands with Corpse Knight, Worthy Knight and Skyknight Vanguard. It makes for a slightly slower but still incredibly potent opening.
Card Order and Early Plays
While dropping Fervent Champion on T1 to hit for 1 right away feels satisfying, a Venerable Knight on T1 followed by Champion on T2 for a four damage attack is far more effective, especially if you have a Knight of the Ebon Legion to drop on T2 as well, immediately buffing to 2/3. Fervent Knight on T1 is an easy trap to get caught in that actually slows you down.
Corpse Knight creates a potent synergy with Skyknight and Worthy Knight which merits some consideration when deciding what to play first. The board state, the rest of your hand and whether your opponent might be holding any sweepers are notable factors to consider in their order.
When holding Corpse Knight and Worthy Knight, it’s a tossup on playing CK or WK first. If I have a bunch of additional creatures in hand, I’ll play CK first to get the extra triggers, but if I’m lighter in the hand and on threats, Worthy Knight will get the drop ahead of Corpse Knight. Keep in mind too that Worthy Knight triggers on the cast, while Corpse Knight triggers when a creature enters the battlefield; the difference in triggers means that if you cast Corpse Rider with Worthy Knight out, you’ll get the 1/1 Human token, but its creation won’t trigger Corpse Knight’s ability.
If I have Skyknight and Corpse Knight in hand, I’ll play Skyknight first; that way it is ready to attack through the air and generate damage off of Corpse Knight when I cast CK on the following turn. There are few hard and fast rules for this deck, the interactions can create opportunities that shift quickly based on hand and board state and the deck is less likely to lose a game than the player is.
Mono Red – This isn’t the monster it once was in Best of One, but it’s still a deck you’ll come across and has some potency to it. Some of these builds are straight out of Theros; others may be built with Obosh. The Obosh builds are without the deck’s best tools: Embercleave, Cavalcade, and Runaway Steam-kin. Honestly, I don’t think it’s a build to worry about. The Theros RDW builds on the other hand are still pretty potent in the hands of a good pilot. Head to head, the RDW deck is better as there really isn’t an answer for the inevitable Embercleave; your best bet is to hope you can pull off something like Fervent Champion and Blacklance to hopefully reduce the damage below lethal and follow up with lethal damage yourself, or be able to overwhelm them with a main phase Unbreakable Formation on a horde of creatures.
Mono Black/Rakdos Obosh is a much better build than the RDW Obosh build, but ultimately is still a matchup that I think favors the Knights. Cry of the Carnarium is the key card for Obosh, and Fight as One is your #1 tool against it.Getting into the long game could be rough once they drop Obosh, but if you’ve been able to go wide by that point, then it’s still a very winnable matchup in Bo1.
Simic Umori Mutate – Mutate also comes in a Temur flavor; in either case, this is a matchup I really like for Mardu Knights. Mutate just can’t keep up with the speed of this deck, nor can it go as wide. Get your Worthy Knights and Skyknights out as quick as you can, and open up the throttle on the go wide approach. When you see an Umori deck, just cut loose; there’s little to no chance of a sweeper spell unless they play Fae of Wishes, but that should telegraph what they’re doing, and I haven’t seen much of that. Mutate is a fun mechanic, and it can be deadly in the hands of someone like Andrea Mengucci, but don’t sweat it 90% of the time.
Rakdos/Jund Sacrifice Lurrus/Obosh – I’ve been really surprised at how little sacrifice I’ve come across, I expected this archetype to dominate the metagame by volume as well as effectiveness. While it continues to be very strong, the volume hasn’t been there, at least in my own sample size. In either case, the ability of Mardu Knights to go wide while protecting against sweepers and the occasional spot removal is a build that has some sturdiness against Sacrifice, but when the Sacrifice decks work well, they’re a better deck. If they stumble a bit, then Mardu Knights can take the day.
Jeskai Keruga Fires – In Best of One I have found this deck to be curiously absent; part of this might be that it is a deck that improves significantly after sideboard, making it a weaker Bo1 choice. Watch out for Deafening Clarion; it will take out everything if you aren’t prepared with Unbreakable Formation or Fight as One. If Teferi is out, those cards won’t do anything, but Teferi can be a tricky play for the opponents since there are a lot of cards in the deck that benefit from you casting your creatures again, and this deck is very good at keeping Teferi off the board anyway.
Boros Lurrus Cycling – This deck is as close to a Mono Red successor as you’ll find in Best of One right now, along with its cousin in Jeskai. There are some Zirda builds that try to do the same thing, but they don’t have the potency of the Lurrus decks. Zenith Flare is pretty busted and if Cycling ends up being problematic in the metagame, then it could get a ban. That being said, I don’t expect that to happen as it’s a fairly straightforward deck to build for beating. In this case, Knights does a better job of going wide; meanwhile taking out Flourishing Fox is pretty much the only thing Blacklance should be used for in this matchup. Zenith Flare is the wildcard and can take a game you have completely under control and flip it into a loss in the blink of an eye. Always assume your opponent has a Flare in hand and be wary of your life total.
Azorius / Esper Yorion Control – Azorius Control is the deck I have crossed paths with most while playing Knights, which is something I’m still wrapping my head around. Control is not strong in Best of One; best I can figure is Control players are taking advantage of the chaos of the dissolution of Mono Red. With almost any control deck, dropping a Stormfist Crusader early is a huge play. Even bigger is getting either Fight as One or Unbreakable Formation online, as they can be game winners. Formation makes for a better finisher in most cases, but Fight as One lets you play more spells, while keeping the necessary mana open. When you can, try to hold threats back in your hand as Sweeper insurance, ideally with the ability to rapidly reload the board with several post-sweeper. Also, Elspeth Conquers Death can only touch one card in the entire deck, so they’ll be ready to exile Lurrus as soon as it drops; make sure that you can take advantage of the cast by bringing back something useful, or by doing it when the potential mana stall will benefit you.
If it sounds like I favor Mardu Knights in almost every matchup, that’s because I largely do, I’ve ridden the deck for a 70% win rate so far and plan to take it a lot further. This is in my opinion the best aggro deck in the format, which is pretty odd considering there is only one new card in the deck. That is the power of a shifting metagame though; it can open up gaps for other decks, and sometimes a single card is all it takes.