It seems like only yesterday that Modern Horizons previews were upon us and now we’re gifted with Core Set 2020 previews. It didn’t take long for the whole set to be made public knowledge, revealing the new-ish tribal themes buried within the set: Knights, Angels, Elementals, and Spirits.
Elementals are Temur-based and Spirits are mostly Azorius, while Knights and Angels mostly lie within white and Orzhov. For the purposes of this article, I’ll be focusing on the Orzhov sector on Knights and Angels.
Knight of the Ebon Legion gives an additional one-drop to the Knight archetype where we previously only had Dauntless Bodyguard. (I tried my share with Novice Knight and didn’t get far.) There has been little reason to play Knights over traditional Mono-White Aggro before, but let’s break down Knight of the Ebon Legion.
A 1/2 for a single mana is already a decently statted creature as long as it does a little bit more. After all, my pick for best one-drop white creature of all time is Thraben Inspector (over Mother of Runes), where the kicker is that extra toughness.
The pump ability of 2B to give deathtouch and +3/+3 means Knight of the Ebon Legion is unblockable in the early turns and absolutely immune to being double-blocked in the mid-game, lest the opponent risk a huge loss of resources. On Turn 3, it’s a fine play to go ahead and crack in for four damage if you don’t have anything better to do, all while getting a +1/+1 counter on the Knight for your troubles.
Adanto Vanguard has always been a good card in Standard. It’s weak against Mono-Red Aggro and in the mirror versus Mono-White Aggro, but one of your best cards against control decks like Esper and combo decks like Simic Nexus.
Knight of the Ebon Hand works well with Adanto Vanguard in two ways. First off, Adanto Vanguard is a three-power creature to attack with on Turn 3 along with Knight of the Ebon hand for a quick total of four to trigger the Ebon Hand static ability.
Secondly, and most importantly, is that you can pay four life at will to give Adanto Vanguard indestructible. This means that even if you don’t have good attacks or that you just need to give Adanto Vanguard indestructible without punching through damage, you can still get a +1/+1 counter on Knight of the Ebon Hand at the end of your turn.
Corpse Knight from Core Set 2020 joins the cast of two-drops alongside Knight of Malice and Knight of Grace to give the Knightly beatdown business. Knight of Grace is perhaps the best of the bunch, as it combos with Knight of the Ebon Hand the best. Still, even Knight of Malice is good if you have a white permanent on Turn 3, namely History of Benalia.
Corpse Knight works into the mix as a multicolored Knight that turns on both of the aforementioned Knights. Decks like Orzhov Knights tend to have trouble finishing off the game once the opponent stabilizes. Corpse Knight provides that extra ping or two after the opponent has taken a commanding battlefield presence. Corpse Knight is especially good in multiples and with token makers like History of Benalia or Adanto, the First Fort.
Cavalier of Dawn has some interesting applications in Mono-White decks and variants that splash. The most potent pure value use is targeting your own Legion’s Landing to create a 3/3 Golem. Even something like a Conclave Tribunal that had to take a weak target or a permanent that you don’t mind giving back, like a 0/0 Hydroid Krasis, is a good target. Cavalier of Dawn can upgrade your weaker tokens into better ones, going from a 1/1 to a 3/3, and the ability can target Adanto Vanguard and will still resolve if it’s indestructible. Lastly, it can convert a 2/1 Martyr of Dusk or Tithe Taker into a token and a Golem.
The uses of Cavalier of Dawn are pretty apparent on a case-by-case basis in Standard. Experimental Frenzy is likely the most problematic permanent to bust up, followed shortly by Wilderness Reclamation and Search of Azcanta. It’s tough, though, as Beast Within’ing your opponent’s stuff makes for a sometimes-difficult Golem to have to push through.
The dies trigger works nicely if you targeted one of your own enchantments, whether it’s a measly Legion’s Landing for another token or a Conclave Tribunal. It’s basically a freeroll when you run four Legion’s Landing since a lot of the time you’ll legend rule a copy away to put an incidental enchantment in your graveyard.
Cavalier of Night does a lot of similar things as the Dawn cousin wants from a top-end card in an aggressive deck. The Night Knight destroys an opposing creature at the cost of your (hopefully) quite expendable creature. The dies trigger also reads very much like a white card to return a small creature from your graveyard to the battlefield, reminiscent of Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants. Then, of course, the 4/5 body that lifelinks is basically a Lyra Dawnbringer in black. Sadly, though, because of History of Benalia, it’s tough to justify Cavalier of Night in a white-based deck, as much as it resembles a white card.
Let’s take a look at sample Knight deck.
- 4 Adanto Vanguard
- 4 Dauntless Bodyguard
- 4 Knight of Grace
- 4 Knight of Malice
- 2 Valiant Knight
- 4 Midnight Reaper
- 3 Corpse Knight
- 1 Cavalier of Dawn
- 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion
History of Benalia has always been the main payoff for any Knight strategy. In fact, the double History of Benalia draw is one of the best “combos” in Standard due to its own built-in synergy. To make a Knight deck in Core Set 2020 Standard, the deck must lean towards white to support History of Benalia. There are no exceptions.
Valiant Knight asks for four mana, which is as much as one of your best planeswalkers or removal spells would cost. History of Benalia carries a lot of weight for the Knight archetype, but Valiant Knight carries the tail end of the load in small numbers.
Legion Lieutenant almost made the cut as a Knight that synergizes with Adanto Vanguard and Legion’s Landing. Champion of Dusk is also a consideration at that point, although it takes the slots of possible Cavaliers, which seems stronger at face value.
Another deck that caught my attention is an Orzhov Angels deck. Lifegain mechanics and build-arounds have always been the brew sites of pet decks of mine and Core Set 2020 offers some good hits.
- 4 Ajani's Pridemate
- 3 Lyra Dawnbringer
- 1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
- 4 Resplendent Angel
- 4 Leonin Vanguard
- 2 Seraph of the Scales
- 4 Angel of Vitality
- 4 Bishop of Wings
Scoured Barrens is really the piece that holds this deck together. The mana is already great with the addition of Temple of Silence from Core Set 2020, but a little more fixing never hurts.
I’ve been tempted to cut an Isolated Chapel for the first Swamp, which is a crazy consideration in Standard. Wow do we have some awesome fixing right now, especially in enemy colors.
Wind Drake has nothing on Angel of Vitality. Lifegain from Leonin Vanguard and Vampire tokens quickly goes from incidental to real numbers. 25 life is easily attainable, granting you a 4/4 flyer for three mana with some additional lifegaining upside to boot.
Big momma tops the curve to give all our Angels a supercharged punch of lifegain and +1/+1. It’s not like Lyra is a bad card on her own either.
Seraph of the Scales is super-strong but competes directly with Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and the new Ajani, Strength of the Pride. Four-drops must be conserved, and a curve must be respected.
A one-of Shalai shows up for value. Legendary is a thing, so multiples are already dissuaded. Her abilities don’t stack in any useful way and we can’t use her activated ability. One is the number I’m happy drawing in any given game.
Resplendent Angel is the true Angel payoff. The deck is built to gain life and has many different ways to cobble together the necessary five in any given turn. A Lyra Dawnbringer swing was the only consistent way to do that before. Now Ajani Pridemate tribal combines with a motley crew of lifegain cards to ensure a 4/4 Angel token on the regular.
Wow. A two-mana 1/4 is reasonable to start. Four life is a huge chunk to gain for casting an Angel and is far beyond what we call “incidental lifegain.” A Resplendent Angel plus an attack from a 1/1 lifelinking Vampire or a Leonin Vanguard is enough to create a whole ‘nother Angel. Scoured Barrens also fills the gap to get that extra one life needed to get that Angel token trigger.
I believe Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice to be the best Angel in Standard, though it’s tough to fit her here. The manabase is great and can afford to get a red splash in here, but what do we cut? The four-drops are all amazing already. I could believe a Boros build that shies away from Seraph of the Scales and Moment of Craving for her, although I haven’t wrapped my head around how exactly to build it. She’d probably be the only red card, outside of some Lava Coils and some sideboard cards like Experimental Frenzy.
Tribal Is Back!
Core Set 2020 offers a lot for previously shallow tribes. I expect that to be all turned on its head once people get their hands on the product and get to brewing with the new sweet creatures. I’m happy to see white creature types other than Humans and Soldiers get some love and am looking forward to constructing a deck or two to beat down with.