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.
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:
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. With beefy creatures like Tarmogoyf, Voice 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.
Second, 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.
The 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).