Deck of the Week: Nahiri Knightfall

This week’s Deck of the Week hails from the SCG Classic in Worcester from two weeks ago. Eli Kassis is a name some of you might recognize as one of the principle deckbuilders who has worked to put Retreat to Coralhelm combo on the map. He helped Bant Knightfall break out to much fanfare at the Invitational in April with a near miss on Top 8, and followed up the next month with a Top 8 at GP Charlotte. Both these builds were Collected Company decks, which he seems to be diverging from of late. Taking some inspiration from the Jeskai pilots of the world, he’s recently incorporated everyone’s favorite new apocalyptic antagonist.

Knight_of_the_Reliquary_(KvD) cropped

Nahiri, the Harbinger has rapidly proven her mettle in Modern and become a true cross-archetype staple, appearing everywhere from Kiki Chord, to RW Lockdown, to her de facto homebase Jeskai Control. The iconic planeswalker seems to bring a lot to the Knightfall archetype too. Take a look at Kassis’s most recent incarnation:

Nahiri Knightfall, by Eli Kassis (1st, SCG Classic Worcester)

Creatures (19)
Knight of the Reliquary
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Tarmogoyf
Scavenging Ooze
Snapcaster Mage
Eternal Witness
Courser of Kruphix
Zealous Conscripts
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn

Enchantments (4)
Oath of Nissa
Retreat to Coralhelm

Instants (7)
Lightning Bolt
Path to Exile
Stubborn Denial

Planeswalkers (4)
Nahiri, the Harbinger

Sorceries (4)
Serum Visions

Lands (22)
Forest
Plains
Arid Mesa
Breeding Pool
Gavony Township
Ghost Quarter
Hallowed Fountain
Horizon Canopy
Kessig Wolf Run
Misty Rainforest
Sacred Foundry
Stomping Ground
Temple Garden
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Reclamation Sage
Stony Silence
Dispel
Lightning Helix
Negate
Surgical Extraction
Linvala, Keeper of Silence
Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Keranos, God of Storms
Flame Jab
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At its heart, Knightfall combo is a deck much akin to Abzan Company and Kiki Chord, aiming to supplement a midrange board presence plan with an “oops I win” combo in the lategame. Where Abzan Company tends towards the value side of the spectrum, and Kiki Chord focuses more heavily on executing its combo endgame, most builds of Knightfall have trended aggressive. Emrakul the Aeons TornWith beefy creatures like TarmogoyfVoice of Resurgence, and the eponymous Knight of the Reliquary herself, this archetype has been pretty well built to smash face when its combo doesn’t come online or opponents present significant disruption. This latest version, however, has cut much of the aggressive elements in favor of ratcheting up the combo dimension.

Nahiri offers a few new strategic avenues to the deck that seem to gel well with what it’s already doing. First of all there’s the classic pairing with Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, to plus twice into a stabilized board and promptly annihilate the plane of Innistrad opponent’s board. This combo folds to different answers than the Knightfall combo, and trying to attack Nahiri to prevent Armageddon may well buy the pilot the time needed to kill with creatures.

The presence of Emmy herself also gives us another outlet for piles of mana generated via the Coralhelm combo, when attacking with a giant Knight won’t do the trick or the number of fetchable lands is dwindling. Between Knight, mana dorks, and Retreat, this deck is one of few that can reasonably expect to cast Emrakul from hand some number of games. I imagine this line comes up much less frequently than the lower-hanging fruit of a giant Kessig Wolf Run or Nahiri ultimate, but it does provide some more play in corner cases.

Oath of NissaSecond, Nahiri can improve draws in the mid- to late-game, pitching redundant Retreats or mana dorks that arrive after they’re needed. This ability is great in a control strategy like Jeskai that runs a large number of mana sources, but it’s also excellent in a deck building to two-card combos. With Nahiri looting, Serum Visions, and Oath of Nissa, Nahiri Knightfall is pretty well-suited to dig through its library in search of a missing combo piece. It’s significant that both of the cantrips find every piece the deck might need, and I’m particularly impressed with the use of Oath here. I think we may see this card adopted in more archetypes as deckbuilders figure out how to minimize the “permanent only” restriction.

We see another piece of tech that’s been popping up more in Modern of late, Stubborn Denial. As another extremely efficient effect with a restriction attached, Denial may be underplayed in Modern due simply to deckbuilders not having solved the “constant ferocious” conundrum yet. I don’t have a good sense for how often this deck gets the upgrade from Force Spike, but Tarmogoyf and Knight probably go a long way. In addition, how sick is the Kessig Wolf Run activation plus Stubborn in response to a game-winning spell? Blown. Out.

Retreat to CoralhelmThe sideboard strikes me as a bit odd, with so many singletons and no tutor effects to find them. Perhaps this is the result of a hasty decision to battle the Classic on Sunday by Kassis, although the preponderance of cantrips and Nahiri herself may provide enough filtering to find these bullets when necessary.

I think we haven’t seen the end of Knightfall in Modern, and if Kassis’s constant updates and tinkering are any indication, the archetype may have a lot of room for improvement. Retreat to Coralhelm can do some pretty nutty stuff in a format full of Birds of Paradise and fetchlands, and it might have a role to play elsewhere too. The same can be said for semi-build-arounds like Oath of Nissa and Stubborn Denial, and I’d love to see more people trying to innovate new shells to make these cards work.

Finally, I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday for—I promise this time, for realzies—the June metagame report. I’m truly sorry it has taken so long, but I look forward to seeing your reactions to the analysis (and we should be back on track for July).

6 thoughts on “Deck of the Week: Nahiri Knightfall

  1. The only combo here seems to be knight and retreat – oath does not find retreat, thus the 8 cantrips do not all find the pieces of the combo (?). Unless you’ you’ nahiri emrakul a combo, but you don’t actually want to draw emrakul so that seems sketchy.

    Why one zealous conscript? No Kiki for infinite, no chord to steal an opposing nahiri…

    1. I was basically counting Nahiri herself as a “combo piece.” I suppose it makes more sense to say Oath finds all of the business cards in the deck.

      As for that Zealous Conscripts, it’s in the same vein as all the one-ofs in the board. I wonder if this deck is just way better at churning through the library than it looks on paper. Sensei’s Divining Top decks in Legacy have long been able to dig for one- and two-ofs really consistently just using the Top and fetchlands. Maybe Oath + Visions + Retreat is enough to mimic this functionality?

      1. I have been testing this exact list and it feels like its been put together at the last moment.

        I think there should be 3 retreats in the 75 so you could go up to 3 in MU where you need to race. I felt the conscripts were very bad. Why not just play Sigarda? Sure you can live the dream of stealing Nahiri but most of the time its just a 3.2 haste that costs the same as Sigarda, a 5/5 flier that very few decks can deal with.

        The deck felt very strong though, and quite consistant thanks to cantrips. Nahiri is good to mitigate the weakness to GY hate. Both Goyf and Knight take a beating by random scavenging oozes or sb hate

      2. Yeah I would have just positioned that as the 8 cantrips helping the deck assemble a win, but of note oath won’t find retreat. With those and nahiris you can dig fairly well – but it still doesn’t explain why you’d want conscripts as a one of in a non-kiki deck.

        1. Ah, my mistake, I thought Oath could find enchantments. That does make it seem a little more odd. Bottoming a Retreat when you have Knight in play can’t feel good.

  2. Just wanted to mention, the way this deck can essentially tutor specific cards is using KotR with Courser out using scry triggers following kotr activations and fetchland shuffling then, when you see what you want thanks to Courser, draw with Horizon Canopy.

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