Tournament Grounds Will Make Knights A Contender In Throne of Eldraine Standard

Tribal synergies are often questionable at best in Standard, but Ben Friedman thinks we might have the start of something great! Will the Knights of Eldraine prove they have what it takes to be a successful deck choice?

In the early stages of a new format, it’s always important to identify the
best answers, the best threats, and the best mana. Threats and answers are
exciting, but mana makes the format go round.

It was the case back with Khans of Tarkir, where three and
four-color decks crushed the field due to the incredible boost given to
dual and trilands. In order to keep up, it became almost mandatory to run
three colors, but the whole tent would have come crashing down without the
powerful lands silently supporting the format. There would have been no
overwhelming Rally the Ancestors deck without the lands to support four

The same can be said for the recent Kethis Combo deck that briefly broke Core Set 2020 Standard. It was the mana that made the monster, not
the other way around. Keep this fundamental principle in mind when
analyzing a new set with fresh eyes.

As such, Tournament Grounds is the card that will have the quietest
influence on Throne of Eldraine Standard format simply by virtue
of how it promotes consistency for the multicolor aggro deck du jour,

Move over Orzhov Vampires, you’ve rotated. Nearly the entire deck that was
once the best aggressive strategy in Core Set 2020 Standard is
gone, and with it a gaping void for aggro in the new format. Mono-Red has
also lost a ton of its best cards, though we all know that Mono-Red never
truly goes away.

But for white-based aggro, it seems like Knights are the new way forward,
and we have multiple distinct ways to build our Knight aggro decks thanks
to the gentle boost of Tournament Grounds.

It’s actually very disheartening, almost like a slot machine that barely
missed the jackpot, to see History of Benalia leaving Standard right as the
influx of Knights would make it the best it’s ever been. Imagine History of
Benalia alongside Knight of Malice and Knight of Grace with Throne of Eldraine! Those kinds of jackpots are few and far
between and it’s sad that it doesn’t get to be a part of Throne of Eldraine Standard for even a couple of months.

But it makes sense, as Wizards of the Coast doesn’t want one flavor of
aggro deck to just run roughshod over the rest of the field.

So, what will it be? Orzhov Knights? Mardu Knights? Rakdos or Boros? How
midrangey do we want to go? We can’t run headfirst into the bigger midrange
decks with their Questing Beasts and Bonecrusher Giants. On the other hand,
too big and we risk being a worse version of a Planeswalker-based deck.
Midrange is going to be solid in the new format, and synergy-based aggro
needs the right balance to slip around the individually powerful cards that
will anchor the big decks of Standard.

Let’s start with a straightforward Orzhov build, just as a placeholder
while we wait for more previews.

The nice thing about all these new Knights is that they work as mana sinks,
reach, removal, and pressure. Cards like Murderous Rider give you a Hero’s
Downfall attached to a creature you can use later to keep applying
pressure, which is really incredible in an aggro deck. When opponents are
going to be packing offensively overpowered cards like Bonecrusher Giant,
you need every way to claw back an advantage you can get!

Sadly, that is the one giant fly in the ointment when looking at a deck
like this one. Tournament Grounds doesn’t fix your mana for Swift End. If
anything holds back the consistency of a deck like this, it’s going to be
that nagging weakness. Plains, Tournament Grounds, Swamp casts everything
in the deck perfectly, with that one glaring exception. Same deal with
Tournament Grounds, Tournament Grounds, Godless Shrine. What a blowout. I
wish I had a good solution, but for now this is the world we live in.

Additionally, I’m looking to add a third one-drop to this deck to really
kick it into high gear. Only eight one-drops is a bit lower than I’d like,
though Temple of Silence does sort of function as a pseudo-one-drop.
Foulmire Knight is the closest one, and the fact that it has deathtouch and
cycles in the late game is worthwhile, but it doesn’t pressure very
effectively. Perhaps it’s worth playing just to ensure that a high
percentage of games begin with a one-drop? I’d really like to see another
two-power one-drop Knight, or one that gets a bonus as long as you control
one or more other Knights. Some sort of Haazda Marshal, but a Knight,

But we should be able to do a little bit better by expanding our range.
Mardu offers us a lot of incredibly powerful Knights, and maximizes our
best mana fixing. Tournament Grounds is the best land in the deck once we
commit to running three colors. It also lets us play with a very special
one-drop Knight, one that incentivizes a slightly different plan, and pays
a bit of respect to one of Magic’s recent superstars.

How does that list look?

Fervent Champion, a.k.a. Javier Dominguez, is the third one-drop you want
for your Knights deck, although the mana is just a little bit too weak to
make the straight three-color version optimal. Better at this point in the
preview season is a lighter splash of red, just for Inspiring Veteran and
perhaps Steelclaw Lance. I’m still very interested in Smitten Swordmaster
as a way to close out games when the battlefield gets too cluttered, more
than alternatives like Wintermoor Commander. Double Curry Favor to drain an
opponent out from a double-digit life total is absolute madness and Corpse
Knight is a great way to get the drips of life loss started early.

Oddly enough, these decks can very easily win a game without ever actually
connecting for combat damage! Double Curry Favor, double Corpse Knight, and
five other Knights just does it. That’s unprecedented from an ostensibly
aggro deck. Mono-Red wishes it had that kind of reach!

But I’m still skeptical of stretching the manabase to the full three colors
without something else to help out. I’m certain that we’ll get that
something else in the next year, the same way Vampires ascended to the top
of Standard after years of languishing near the bottom of the format. But
for now, we’re left trying everything in an attempt to balance power and
consistency in our manabases.

Of course, whenever it’s time for innovation, the best way to make a
significant leap ahead of the masses is to be ready to cut sacred cows.
What if we did something a bit…unusual?

This build is focused more on the Equipment aspect of Fervent Champion,
leveraging Embercleave as a powerful top-end piece that also boosts the
one-mana creature for free.

Unfortunately, Embercleave isn’t all that great on a 1/1 creature, since a
2/2 double strike isn’t the most thrilling card in the game. But with a
Steelclaw Lance or two involved, suddenly things can get dicey fast for
opponents. These are two of the most exciting equipment cards printed in
some time, and it makes sense that one would lean in and exploit the
synergies that these decks offer.

The only big question remaining about committing to an Equipment strategy
is how we can minimize our weakness to Teferi, Time Raveler. That card
makes equipment look silly, burning multiple turns of mana in one low
investment. Can you imagine casting a Knight of the Ebon Legion, a
Steelclaw Lance, and suiting it up for an attack, only to get raveled? This
is a play pattern likely to be present for the next year in Standard,
making it hard to justify going all-in on cards like Embercleave.

It’s unclear what the best solution is to the Teferi problem, but for now
it seems like lowering the cost of your cards and playing more cards that
dissuade the opponent from bouncing them (i.e. all the Adventure cards!) is
the way to go. After all, what right-minded opponent would ever return a
Murderous Rider to your hand? And Fervent Champion has haste, which makes
it a poor candidate for enemy Teferis.

Ironically, the only deck I’m not particularly interested in for leveraging
Tournament Grounds and Knights is the one deck that casts Inspiring Veteran
the most consistently! Boros is simply not the realm of Knights as it
currently stands. The best removal spell (that is also a Knight) requires a
commitment to black mana, as does the best reach spell printed for a deck
like this in a long time. So, we’re off Boros, which may be best suited to
exploit Feather, the Redeemed and associated synergies.

It may not look it from the first glimpses of Throne of Eldraine
Standard, but Tournament Grounds is going to lurk in the background of
Standard, waiting for that opportunity to enable something incredibly
resilient and consistent. I’ll be keeping a running list of the best
Knights and Equipment in the format, ready and waiting. Someday soon,
you’ll hear the familiar bellyaching start about how overpowered Mardu
Knights is, and you’ll realize that enablers like Tournament Grounds lay
the foundation for decks to become too consistent and too powerful.