Yesterday, at my local event, I heard this for the first time…
“Damn, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to play against a Knight of the Reliquary deck today”.
-Anonymous Discouraged Opponent
This one caught me off guard. I’ve heard similar comments directed at Tron, Combo, Control, or Thoughtseize decks, but very rarely has anyone been disappointed in the midrange match-up. What seems like an inherently fair magic card is, in fact, an incredibly unfair source of utility, tempo, and merciless smashing. Perhaps my opponent was aware.
Consider this my love letter to Knight of the Reliquary.
This card truly has it all. Let’s start with stats…
The BIGGEST Creature in Modern
With the exception of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, who is in another league of its own, KoTR’s stats are likely the biggest that you’ll see in any creature in Modern.
Limited only by the amount of land that you’ve chosen to include in your deck, KoTR can block profitably or attack safely through any of the scariest opposition in a midrange strategy.
Even decks that aim to cast Knight on the second turn via a Noble Hierarch or Birds of Paradise are consistently able to introduce it as a 4/4 with two prior fetchland activations. In fact, I would strongly recommend waiting until a second land is in the graveyard to prevent Knight from falling to a Lightning Bolt after being cast.
Consider how this stacks up against the most powerful midrange strategies that exist in the format. RG Eldrazi immediately comes to mind. Though a turn two Thought-Knot Seer off of two Eldrazi Temples is possible, casting one on turn three is significantly more likely. This 4/4 creature is often quite difficult to deal with, especially after it has taken a removal spell out of your hand. Out-sizing it with a Knight of the Reliquary is a fine way to keep it at bay, especially considering the types of removal spells that Eldrazi decks are able to play.
Speaking of removal spells, as a KoTR deck pilot, you’ll benefit immensely from a knowledge of what types of removal options are played in Modern decks. In the case for RG Eldrazi (or other similar decks that rely on red for removal), creature removal options typically come in increments of three and five. There’s really not much else that sees play.
Roast is a great example of a necessary evil for RG, UR, or mono red decks as they lack ‘unconditional’ creature removal spells that white and black provides. An awareness of the amount of mana that your opponent has access to and the options they have at their disposal provides some security for a Knight of the Reliquary to be cast when it is least susceptible to removal. Often times, two Lightning Bolts are needed from your opponent (or block/Bolt) to deal with the Knight. In either case, this is already value-positive as your opponent has committed two cards to your one and it has likely already provided some other function at that point.
Clearly, Knight is quite a bit more vulnerable to spells like Path to Exile and Maelstrom Pulse but has a slight advantage over two-mana creatures vs. Fatal Push. We have to accept this. Modern is a Path/Push/Bolt format and, while the pain is real, the risk is well worth it. The good news is that a typical Knight of the Reliquary deck is often built around of stack of value creatures that any sane control opponent would deem worthy of a removal spell. Without overcommitting and losing to a Wrath of God, taxing their removal by constantly playing a threat is a fine way to break through. Take for example, GW Company (AKA “ValueTown”), which plays four copies of Knight of the Reliquary alongside 24 of its closest friends.
Todd Stevens’ GW Valuetown (15th @ SCG Min, May 2018)
Todd is a wizard with this deck. He’s been playing it to respectable tournament finishes longer than anyone else and he is well-aware of its match-up and metagame needs. With the uptick in Jeskai Control lately, some might be concerned of the previously mentioned threat of overcommitting into a Supreme Verdict. Its these types of problems that force some of the greatest innovations. Enter Archangel Avacyn. While some might stop at Selfless Spirit as a playable anti-wrath option, Todd has taken this a step further and included a creature that functions similarly in that scenario while also providing a huge flying clock (something that this deck previously found only in a Birds of Paradise after twenty-five minutes of Gavony Township activations) and, when the opportunity arises, a one-sided board wipe vs. go-wide creature strategies.
What does this deck do again?
Oh yeah, Value.
For more on GW Valuetown, check out Zach “Valuetown Daddy” Goldman’s primer on the deck: GW Valuetown Primer.
See what I did there? I thought it was clever.
I’ve been playing a list very similar to Todd’s for a few weeks now and have been thoroughly enjoying myself. Beyond that, the deck has been quite impressive in the current Modern environment. While I am relatively new to this particular version of green-based creature value, I’ve long been piloting value creature strategies in Modern.
Shameless self promotion…
- GW Counters Company Primer
- CKL Plays GW Counters Company Part 1
- CKL Plays GW Counters Company Part 2
- CKL Plays Bloodbraid Value Zoo
That said, I’d like to go on record of saying that Todd has certainly proven to be a better pilot of ‘his’ deck.
I would, however, like to segue to the utility portion of our conversation with a preview of my own version of this deck, specifically to highlight one particular land card that I find to be an outstanding example of the type of utility that Knight of the Reliquary can provide.
Now, this may at first glance seem a little “kitchen table magic” but hear me out…
Imagine that you have committed a decent chunk of creatures to the board and, as we have previously discussed, have identified Supreme Verdict as just about the worst thing that could happen to you. You pack four copies of Collected Company in the deck already, which is a fantastic way to recover from a wrath spell, but why not allow for another out. A blow-out if you will. A single Westvale Abbey in the deck is searchable via one of four Knights and can be found and activated at instant speed.
But Path to Exile?
This is one of the only removal spells in the format that can deal with such a creature and your opponent needs to have not cast it previously on one of your other juicy targets to have access to it at this point. If they are tapping out for a Supreme Verdict, will they have the three extra mana available to flashback (with Snapcaster Mage) a copy before they are attacked for an 18-point life swing?
If they do manage to Path Ormendahl, you have lost only a single land in exchange for a Path to Exile. Your creatures were dead to the wrath anyways.
There’s more. The idea of including Abbey in the first place was conceived during a search for a Modern-legal land that could provide a creature-sacrifice outlet useful in flipping Archangel Avacyn. Abbey fits the bill, and, in some cases where more firepower is needed, it can convert a team of mana dorks and Voice of Resurgences into a brutish line of attackers that includes X/X elementals and flying demons.
One of my favorite Ormendahl moments came when I was paired against Ponza this week and I resolved my Worship against an army of creatures that included Inferno Titan and Tireless Trackers. It was only buying time at this point as my opponent would eventually be able to destroy my creatures with burn spells and Titan activations. I activated my Knight at the end of a turn in which my opponent positioned himself to win and flipped my Westvale Abbey into Ormendahl. Beyond the difficulty that my opponent would have in ridding himself of the creature (actually impossible for this deck to do), Ormendhal’s ability to fly and over the opposing threats presented the perfect clock in this situation.
The ability to fly is of great significance in solving another problem that I’ve identified with the deck. Though, it plays plenty of creatures that have the ability to become huge, none of them are particularly good at breaking through a line of blockers. Five creatures is a lot to commit to flipping Abbey, but when the game goes long and a board stall situation occurs, sometimes going wide with mana dorks and Gavony Township just results in the opponent finding a combat trick that turns your risky attack into a lethal crack back. Sending Ormendahl in allows this deck another parameter on which to attack; go tall/fly overhead.
Corey’s GW Valuetown (May 2018)
Abbey is one small example of a very surprising tempo swing provided by a Knight of the Reliquary activation. Valuetown is typically pretty modest in these types of inclusions but, depending on the state of the meta, experimentation may be called for. In the main of Todd’s deck, he can activate Knight to draw a card from Horizon Canopy, destroy a tron or man-land with Ghost Quarter, or increase Knight’s stats by two with a fetch land. Some decks go as far as to run Bojuka Bog in their sideboard (and sometimes main-Goldman, you’re crazy ;)) to stand up to graveyard strategies such as Hollow One.
The ability to find a utility land at instant speed is incredibly useful. Here are a few tips for activating Knight in this way:
- If the plan is to increase Knight’s stats beyond the range of a Lightning Bolt, remember that tapping the Knight will immediately add one toughness as sacrificing a land is part of the cost but searching for a fetch land to increase an additional point of toughness will not come until your opponent is given a chance to respond with a Bolt.
- Ghost Quarter is an often overlooked way to increase Knight’s stats and can be used as a combat trick in this way. If your Knight needs an additional toughness to survive a block or burn spell, it is perfectly reasonable to find Ghost Quarter and go after an opposing land rather than relying on a fetch land.
- In the case of an uncommonly played utility land like Westvale Abbey, do not put it into play until it is time to activate it. These types of strategies are incredibly more potent when they catch your opponent off guard and unprepared.
- With Courser of Kruphix in play, a Knight activation for a fetch land gives you two opportunities to shuffle your deck to find a better draw.
- This one should goe without saying but Knight activations for fetch lands are significantly more relevant when Tireless Tracker is hanging around. Be careful of the timing of this so that your opponent is not given the opportunity to destroy either creature in response to a sacrifice effect (when the mana is not available to crack a clue).
Other possibilities that are not included in a typical Valuetown deck (but may function perfectly well if they suite your needs) include the following:
Unfortunately, the problem with either land is that they both enter tapped. This can be a huge set-back when the goal of the deck is to play a mana dork on turn one and a Knight, Courser, Tracker, or Azusa on turn two.
These are both pretty clunky but can be quite appealing in a few board states. With Ramunap Excavator in play, Mouth of Ronom is repeatable removal. Its expensive, but sometimes you’ve got to kill some blockers.
The only thing I can think about with Quicksand is how much I’d like to send a Flameblade Adept into that pit. I’d probably never play this one unless 90% of the meta were Hollow One decks. Even then, its probably not good enough, but man is that guy a pain!
Creature match-ups often result in Limited-esque stalemates. Often times, a Gavony Township is all that is needed to grow your team out of range of the opposing blockers but sometimes a good old-fashioned Kessig, Wolf Run just gets the job done that much quicker and with significantly less risk of a crack back. Beyond that, activating a Knight to find one at instant speed allows Wolf Run to function as a combat trick that may allow a Hierarch to trade with something much larger. We’ve already got four Birds in the deck so a single Stomping Grounds should be enough for this land to be functional.
Knight of the Reliquary is a huge, aggressive, utility knife that finds lifelong friends in deck-mates Courser of Kruphix, Tireless Tracker, and Ramunap Excavator. Though it doesn’t often incite panic in your opponent in the same ways that Tron and quick combo decks do, drowning your opponent in value is just as detrimental to their chances of winning the game. Though Knight of the Reliquary fronts a strategy that seems fair and relatively innocuous to an inexperienced opponent, it is far from it.