Knightfalling into 20th at States

This past weekend I was the head judge for New Hampshire’s SCG Standard States, but then got to relax a bit and play on Sunday for Modern.

Yes, I actually played in a tournament. Many of the more active players in the state likely recognize me as I end up judging a ton of events, between a majority of the PPTQs in state to almost all of the close GPs and SCG Opens. For me to play in a competitive event is super rare, and I believe this ended up being the fourth competitive event I’ve played in all year (the others being TCGPlayer Modern States, SCG Standard States in the spring and the modern PPTQ at Jetpack Comics a few months back). Me not playing a ton makes it very difficult to figure out what deck is likely best for any given meta as well as making it hard to get a lot of practice with any given deck, especially as I have a tendency to jump decks fairly often. For example: I decided to build Knightfall just 3 days before the event, played it for 3 rounds at FNM, and then jammed a bunch of games against Trevor Mensinger (on Jund) the night before. Here’s the list I ended up registering:

Knightfall Zoo (38)
Noble Hierarch
Wild Nacatl
Qasali Pridemage
Tarmogoyf
Geist of Saint Traft
Knight of the Reliquary
Mantis Rider
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Dromoka’s Command
Retreat to Coralhelm
Lands (22)
Breeding Pool
Forest
Hallowed Fountain
Kessig Wolf Run
Mountain
Plains
Sacred Foundry
Sejiri Steppe
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills

Sideboard (15)
Scavenging Ooze
Aven Mindcensor
Geist of Saint Traft
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Stony Silence
Crumble to Dust
Celestial Purge
Destructive Revelry
Dispel
Feed the Clan
Rending Volley

Turns out we ended up with 73 players (beating Standard’s 56) which gave us 7 rounds of swiss. I wish that I’d done better standings wise, and I feel like the core of the deck is certainly powerful enough to do it, but overall I’m pretty happy with the end result of the day. Over 7 rounds I picked up wins against Infect (mono-green, budget friendly), Jeskai Twin, Jeskai control, and Zoo. My losses were to Tron and Grixis Twin, in the first two rounds. My draw came in round 5 against Storm, and gave everybody in the event a reason to hope for a Grapeshot ban (11 minute turn failed to kill me, we ended up going 20 minutes past time). I wasn’t super on top of taking detailed notes during the event, but here are a few of the things I learned….

Don’t Forget a Winning Play

Game 2 against my Storm opponent he casts Empty the Warrens and makes 8 dudes while really low on life. This prevents me from swinging with Knight and Nacatl for the win. I totally spaced the Sejiri Steppe in the deck, which would have allowed the Nacatl to bypass his chump blockers and just end the game. Granted, I won that game anyway but I could’ve done it two turns faster, which is two turns safer in a format like modern.

Sequencing is Hard

In my last game of the day, against Jeskai Control, I began to combo out with my opponent at a respectable 21 life. I go through all of the lands in my deck, ending up with about 7 on the battlefield, and am able to swing for just enough damage to win thanks to Kessig Wolf Run. The mistake? Each time I used Knight to get a fetchland I would’ve had 2 triggers from Retreat. This would let me ditch another land from play, thus growing the Knight a bit more. The reason this is important is that I was just dead to a Lightning Helix, which I knew my opponent was playing. He didn’t have it, but I still should have played around it.

Vancouver Mulligans are Awesome

The new mulligan rule is great. I shipped a lot of hands, mainly for one of two reasons: No lands at all or no sources of green mana. The scry is actually really good and really helps mitigate going down a card. For those of us who didn’t mulligan much before this is a perfect time to start correcting the errors we’ve been making by keeping bad hands. I know I’m using the mulligan option much more frequently now than I ever used to.

Know Your Sideboard

I often felt like my sideboard choices weren’t too difficult to make, but at the same time I have no idea if my sideboard currently is any good at all. The only match that was really awkward for me was Storm, as far as choosing what to take out and what to leave in. Some of the cards seem pretty powerful, but at the same time many feel pretty narrow. I think I’d like to try to squeeze in a few copies of Meddling Mage for certain matchups, but beyond that I have no clue what I might be interested in changing. I also feel like there are gaps in my sideboard plan, such as how do I handle Amulet Bloom or Grishoalbrand. The other key part of sideboarding with this deck is knowing when you want to abandon the combo completely. While testing versus Trevor I ended up dropping the Retreats entirely, as it’s just too hard to combo out against a deck with as much removal as Jund has. I also took out most of it versus Jeskai Control. The deck is so new at this point, and I am so inexperienced with it, that I have no idea if this was even correct.

Cards: Seemed Good

Over the course of this event I only actually got the combo together in 3 games (one of which was on turn 3). There were two cards that really stood out to me as better than expected, and they were the two most controversial picks for the entire deck (I bet you could guess at least one of them pretty easily now….): Mantis Rider and Dromoka’s Command. This is a deck that is designed to be super aggressive early while also straining the opponent’s removal to the point I can land a Knight and potentially combo them out. The fact that Rider dies to Lightning Bolt isn’t the end of the world, as it’s one less removal spell to point at Knight which is the creature that matters the most in a game that goes beyond 4 turns of attacking (yes, I realize it grows, but with only 8 fetches Knight would often be a 2/2 or 3/3 when played on turn 2-4). Rider fits into the deck’s aggressive nature, also provides defense against some decks, and allows Zoo to attack from a new angle: the air! The creatures from small Zoo, Burn, and Affinity will have issues getting through a Rider, and in many of these matchups it’s just a Lightning Bolt every turn that also blocks.

Dromoka’s Command really shined because of how often I was still able to get two for ones out of it, even in modern. Growing a Tarmogoyf or Mantis Rider always felt amazingly good, especially when that Goyf then eats the creature blocking it AND fights a Noble Hierarch at the same time. It also gives the deck another out against enchantments like Blood Moon and Splinter Twin in the maindeck, which is always nice to have.

Cards: Seemed Less Good

Probably the two biggest complaints I had with the deck was how harsh Mantis Rider was on the mana base and that Tarmogoyf was often unimpressive. I generally needed help from my opponent to get him to be a 3/4 or bigger early, and numerous times I ended up casting him as a 0/1 over the course of the day. Sadly I don’t think there are really any better options out there at this time in the two mana spot, because at the core this is an aggressive deck. Fleecemane Lion or Flinthoof Boar just don’t seem on the same power level, even though sometimes they are better than the Goyfs this deck puts out.

Final Thoughts

Overall I really enjoyed playing the deck and am looking forward to trying it out more over the coming weeks at FNM as well as Friday at GP Pittsburgh (willing to test with anybody on that Friday on site). Knightfall is in an awkward spot right now where the deck is still too new to really know what is ideal, and even going forward it’s very likely that there will end up being multiple versions that people play. I think that’s one of the most attractive things about the combo: that you can fit it easily into an aggressive deck like this, or a more midrange style deck, or even a control deck, and i’m excited to see where the next few months take us in regards to this deck.

Chris Wendelboe

Chris is a level 2 judge from Ashland, New Hampshire. He enjoys Scapeshift, modern, and putting on the best events possible.