Battle for Zendikar was, for the most part, a dud as far as Legacy is concerned. For weeks, the biggest impact the set had on Legacy was the banning of Dig Through Time and the introduction of the new mulligan rule. However, that all changed at the StarCityGames Legacy Open in St. Louis when Steven Schlepphorst piloted a new Bant deck to a 4th place finish. Bant decks have come and gone over the years, but what made this deck truly innovative is that it used a combo that many were hyping as a game changer in Modern, and applied it to a Legacy Bant value deck.
Knight of the Reliquary and Retreat to Coralhelm was slated as a combo capable of making your Knights absolutely massive. With Retreat to Coralhelm in play, you can activate Knight of the Reliquary to tutor out a land, which triggers Retreat so you can untap your Knight and repeat the process until you run out of lands. What’s especially powerful about this combination is that with a fetchland in play, you can even do this midcombat after your opponent has declared blockers. As well, you can also float mana from the lands you sacrifice to fuel up a massive Kessig Wolf Run activation, just in case the opponent sees through the combo and throws a chump blocker in the way.
As a backup plan to the Retreat to Coralhelm combo, the rest of the deck acts as your standard Bant midrange deck with plenty of creatures with Exalted and evasive fliers to push through damage. Mana dorks like Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise help to set up a turn 2 Knight of the Reliquary, while Qasali Pridemage gives the deck a way to handle artifacts and enchantments like Batterskull and Rest in Peace that would otherwise give you problems. The deck also runs Dryad Arbor as an extra mana dork that can be tutored up with Green Sun’s Zenith, as well as Sigarda, Host of Herons, which is not only tutorable with Zenith, but acts as a big uninteractable beatstick that also blanks sacrifice effects like Liliana of the Veil.
The spell portion of the deck gives you plenty of ways to buy time long enough to get your combo online. Swords to Plowshares is one of the premier removal spells in the format, and the life gain is largely inconsequential since the Knight of the Reliquary can hit for such a massive amount of damage in a single attack that it just doesn’t matter. To help control the opponent’s gameplan and protect our creatures, the deck runs a full set of Force of Will as well as three copies of Daze. Dazing a spell on our own turn can also give you a land drop to trigger Retreat to Coralhelm should you need, which gives the deck even further flexibility. Finally, a set of Brainstorm, a single copy of Sylvan Library and a pair of Jace, the Mind Sculptor give us the ability to dig into our combo pieces and countermagic. These cards are especially powerful given all the ways we have to shuffle the deck, so we never have to run into the dreaded “Brainstorm lock” where we’re forced to draw the less than stellar cards we put back on top.
The sideboard is a little wonky due to the format being so new, but it has answers for nearly everything you’d expect to see at a large tournament. For example, faster graveyard decks like Dredge and Reanimator can be a problem for this deck, so the sideboard not only has Tormod’s Crypt, but Bojuka Bog and the Crop Rotation to find it as a way to blow out the opponent’s graveyard at instant-speed. As well, a single copy of Scavenging Ooze gives you a tutorable way to interact with the opponent’s graveyard for longer games. For longer matchups like Miracles and Shardless BUG where they are trying to grind you out with overwhelming value, Pithing Needle, Gaddock Teeg, and Council’s Judgment come in as ways to handle or prevent cards like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Terminus from allowing them to establish control over the board. Krosan Grip and Qasali Pridemage also help in these matchups since they give you cheap ways to handle Counterbalance and even creatures like Baleful Strix and Shardless Agent.
The sideboard also has several cards to handle tri-colour decks like RUG Delver and Grixis Pyromancer. Path to Exile is fantastic for punishing Delver since they very rarely use basic lands, effectively giving you a removal spell with no downside. While the swarming capability of Young Pyromancer can be rough, Izzet Staticaster is an easy way to clear away X/1s. Staticaster also does wonders against creature decks like Death & Taxes and Goblins which rely on a lot of X/1 creatures to get their game plan going. Engineered Explosives also comes in in these matchups due to the flexibility of destroying a variety of cheap threats that the opponent might send your way. Being able to play it for zero and kill off Delvers is a bonus, but even playing it on 1 against something like Elves can swing the game dramatically in your favour. Finally, we have Envelop and Submerge. Envelop is a clutch counterspell against decks that rely on sorceries such as Show and Tell, while Submerge is a free removal spell against Green decks that can put any creature on top of their deck. What makes this especially powerful is casting it on a creature in response to an opponent’s shuffle effect since it pretty much removes the creature permanently.
Generally, the matchups for the deck are in our favour. Anything aggro or midrange can be outmuscled fairly easily due to the sheer size our Knights can get, and as long as we’re smart with our counterspells, even combo can be kept under control long enough for us to go off. Ultimately, a lot of the deck’s wins and losses come from whether or not we can assemble the right pieces to get ourselves going, which can be alleviated by Brainstorm, Jace, and Green Sun’s Zenith. However, should the opponent be able to interact with our graveyard at all and thus keep our Knight at a small size, we lose out on a lot of our pressure. Deathrite Shaman decks are particularly effective at doing this, which is problematic given how popular Shardless BUG and Elves have gotten in the wake of Dig Through Time’s banning. However, the sheer versatility of the deck’s options and sideboard should be enough to get around Deathrite Shaman and give you the win in the end. Other than that, faster combo decks can also be an issue, but with enough practice in these matchups and keeping the right hands with countermagic, these matches can be decent to play against.
Overall, the explosiveness of Retreat Knight gives the deck a way to win matches that would otherwise be unwinnable with previous Knight of the Reliquary decks. The flexibility of your threats and the ability to win out of nowhere give the deck a surprise factor that can throw a lot of opponents off their game, which can effectively steal you some games as they figure out that that is in fact how your deck works. So if you’re in the mood for a midrange deck with some combo flair, Retreat Knight is the deck for you!
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