Feature Article from Craig Wescoe

How Knight of Autumn Revolutionizes Hatebears

Craig Wescoe

10/5/2018 11:04:00 AM

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With the printing of Knight of Autumn, I wanted to update the green-white version of Hatebears. Everyone is clamoring about Assassin's Trophy, and for good reason since it is a very powerful card that is sure to have a big impact on Modern. But despite Assassin's Trophy being exceptionally strong, Knight of Autmn is an overall better Magic card and will have a more relevant impact on Green-White Hatebears and its positioning in the metagame than Assassin's Trophy will have on any of the Green/Black/x Rock decks of the format. That's my hot take and by the end of this article I will have convinced you.

This list is based on the one Benjamin Hönscheid won a Grand Prix Prague Trial with. I like most of what Benjamin had in the list except for the mana. I removed the second Gavony Township and the second Forest to go up to four Horizon Canopy. This change makes sense for a few reasons. The first reason is that you should never player fewer than four copies of Horizon Canopy in this deck ever for any reason. The second reason is because between the two copies of Scavenging Ooze and the four copies of Knight of Autumn, as well as seven ways to blink Knight of Autumn, we have no shortage of life gain to compensate for however much life we have to pay from Horizon Canopy. The third reason is because we don't have any need for double green in this deck, so the second Forest is an easy cut. To make room for the fourth Horizon Canopy, it was between cutting the second Gavony Township or the second Stirring Wildwood. I went with the Township because the second copy is redundant and because I'd rather have the extra color fixing over the extra untapped land. If you want the second Township back in the deck though, the cut should be the second Stirring Wildwood. Every other land in the deck is indispensable.

In addition to changing the mana base, I also modified the sideboard. Since we have four Knight of Autumn in the main deck, there is no longer a need for Qasali Pridemage in the sidebord. And since we are removing Mirran Crusader from the main deck, I replaced the Pridemages with Mirran Crusaders. The other change I made was replacing the one Auriok Champion with a third Gaddock Teeg. Teeg has lots of useful applications in the current metagame and I really wanted to fit third copy into the sideboard. Auriok Champion was the most obvious cut since the life gain provided from Knight of Autumn makes the life gain ability of Auriok Champion less important. And we still have the two Mirran Crusaders against decks where the protection from black is important, such as Death's Shadow, so I like those changes to the sideboard.

Mid
Low
 Knight of Autumn
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$1.07
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In addition to moving the two Mirran Crusaders to the sideboard, I also removed the two copies of Thalia, Heretic Cathar to make room for the full set of Knight of Autumn. I could see cutting a Blade Splicer or a Knight of Autumn to make room for the first Thalia, Heretic Cathar, but I decided to go with the more streamlined version of the deck that maximizes consistency and synergy. Since we run seven ways to blink the knight and the splicer, I decided to go with the full set of each.

Now that we've talked about the updates and changes to the deck, let's go over how the deck functions and the purpose each card serves in the deck.

The general purpose of the deck is to apply early pressure and disruption simultaneously. We disrupt the opponent's mana development with Leonin Arbiter, which is unreal good on its own against fetch lands and especially good in conjunction with Ghost Quarter or Path to Exile. One of the premier openers of this deck is to play first-turn Noble Hierarch followed by second-turn Leonin Arbiter plus Ghost Quarter, sacrificing to kill their land. Knight of Autumn gives us another angle of attack when it comes to disrupting their mana development since she can also come down on the second turn off Noble Hierarch to kill an opposing Aether Vial, Expedition Map (when we're on the play), Springleaf Drum or Mox Opal. We can also do tricks with Flickerwisp in conjunction with Restoration Angel or Aether Vial to take the opponent off a land for a turn, either by blinking the land on their upkeep or on our own end step (since Flickwisp's ability won't return the land until the beginning of the next end step).

The other form of mana disruption in the deck is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Since our only non-creature spells are Path to Exile and Aether Vial and both only cost one mana, Thalia barely hurts us whereas it often significantly slows down opposing strategies, while also attacking each turn. In combination with the aforementioned ways in which we deny the opponent mana, Thalia can often be backbreaking for opponents.

In addition to disrupting mana, we also disrupt opponents in other ways. Scavenging Ooze serves a triple purpose. First off, it gains life. This is much needed against Burn decks especially. The second purpose is graveyard disruption. If preceded by Noble Hierarch, it can be a way to stop Dredge or Goryo's Vengeance in its tracks, but more often it is a way to disrupt graveyard value cards such as Snapcaster Mage. Being able to also disrupt combo decks is a bonus. The third purpose is size. Since we run so many creatures in our deck, Scavenging Ooze coming down late can eat up all its fallen comrades and literally become a huge threat.

We don't only disrupt the opponent's mana development and their graveyard, but also their removal spells. Flashing in Restoration Angel can protect our creature from a Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile or Fatal Push at instant speed. We can also do a similar trick by flashing in Flickerwisp off an Aether Vial on three counters. If the Aether Vial is on two counters, we can flash in Selfless Spirit and sacrifice it. This won't stop Path to Exile, but it will stop most other removal spells. And unlike the blink effects from Flickerwisp and Restoration Angel, Selfless Spirit can be used to counter Supreme Verdict. Out of the sideboard, we get Gaddock Teeg to stop Terminus.

Knight of Autumn is a welcome addition in this build for a few reasons. The first is that it provides us a way to disrupt opposing artifact mana, most notably Aether Vial. Since everyone is playing Humans right now, blowing up their vial early can be good game. It is also a way to really hang with Affinity in game one. Usually we would get blown out in the first game and then try to win both the sideboard games off Stony Silence and Qasali Pridemages. Now that we can reliably draw at least one Knight of Autumn in the first game as well as a pair of blink effects, we will on average be able to kill at least three artifacts over the course of the game. This generally means no Cranial Plate or Steel Overseer shenanigans. We also have plenty of creatures with flying to not die to Signal Pest beatdown, and we also have four copies of Blade Splicer to make an artifact creature to block Etched Champion. For perhaps the first time in history, Green-White Hatebears actually has a good game one against Affinity!

Mid
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 Cranial Plating
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$0.08
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In addition to helping against Affinity, the ability to blow up artifacts is also quite welcome against Krark-Clan Ironworks combo and Tron, especially on the play. And being able to blow up a Hollow One just feels so satisfying. Knight of Autumn doesn't just blow up artifacts, though – it also blows up enchantments. Just as I lamented never having a great game one against Affinity, the same can be said against Bogles (aka Green-White Hexproof). The good news is that now we can actually do quite well against Bogles for exactly the same reasons! Being able to blow up Daybreak Coronet or Spirit Mantle and then reuse the Knight with flicker effects really makes it feel like Bogles is a good matchup now. I would always just pray that my mana denial plan was good enough, but now our prayers can be joined by hope for a new season – specifically the season of Autumn.

The ability to blow up enchantments is obviously at its best against Bogles, but it also comes in handy at various times across several different matchups. For instance, being able to blow up Search for Azcanta at will can be huge against the control decks. With Scavenging Ooze keeping them off Snapcaster Mage, Knight of Autumn keeping them off Search for Azcanta and our mana denial plan in general keeping them off something like Sphinx's Revelation, it will be difficult for them gain any sort of sustainable advantage against us. Really their best chance is a timely Terminus, but we have plenty of ways to recover from that. Knight of Autum can also easily take out a Courser of Kruphix, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Ensnaring Bridge, Blood Moon, Bitterblossom, Prismatic Omen, Amulet of Vigor, Phyrexian Unlife, and various other relevant cards. And remember, it can do so at instant speed in conjunction with Aether Vial or Restoration Angel, so the disruptive capabilities are very high.

This takes us to the life gain ability, which as mentioned before is best against Burn. It is also quite relevant in a variety of other matchups. Pretty much any matchup where getting burned out or outraced is an option, the life gain ability can come in handy. Unlike Kitchen Finks, we gain all four life upfront. This also means that our blink effects don't just gain us two extra life, but the full four extra life. So over the course of a typical game, we can usually gain 8-12 life if we decide that is the mode that is most relevant to our Game Plan. We can also mix and match. Against Humans, we may start by blowing up their Aether Vial, but then gain four life when we blink it and then maybe make it a 4/3 later to trade with an opposing Champion of the Parish. The card really is the best card printed in years for this archetype. Knight of Autumn not only gives us incidental value against things like Pentad Prism and Utopia Sprawl, but also gives us a reliable Game Plan against so many cards and strategies that rely on a key artifact or enchantment – all while also doing the same for our Burn matchup! She really is the Swiss Army Knife this archetype has been waiting for.

Mid
Low
 Restoration Angel
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$1.01
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And the default baseline floor of Knight of Autumn when there is no artifact or enchantment and no reason to gain life is a 4/3 creature for three mana. That's basically a Loxodon Smiter that dies to Lightning Bolt, but a very fine rate on its own considering all its other abilities. Noble Hierarch followed by Knight of Autumn is a four-turn clock by itself.

It's unclear how popular green/black/x decks will be due to Assassin's Trophy, but I would imagine they see a spike in popularity. If so, increasing the number of Mirran Crusaders is a great way to combat those strategies. Those archetypes for now, however, are not very popular so I removed Mirran Crusader from the main. Make sure to update your list according to the metagame you expect to face.

One alternate strategy to consider is running Voice of Resurgence, Loxodon Smiter and Wilt-Leaf Liege over Restoration Angel, Blade Splicer and Flickerwisp. Removing the blink effects will take away a lot of our utility since we won't be able to reuse the ability of Knight of Autumn, but Wilt-Leaf Liege will make the Knight much bigger. If Hollow One is big in your expected metagame, this could be a direction to explore since the Liege pumps our creatures while also sometimes entering the battlefield for free off Burning Inquiry (as can Smiter). Also, if those decks get popular, Loxodon Smiter and Wilt-Leaf Liege are excellent against Liliana of the Veil. Overall, I think this direction is less promising because Modern is a format where disruption is so important, so the blink version I think will prove superior overall.

Assassin's Trophy will at most be a slight upgrade to Abrupt Decay or Maelstrom Pulse in the Rock decks whereas Knight of Autumn completely revolutionizes the entire Hatebears archetype and gives us not only a chance but a reliable game one plan against some of our worst matchups. I suggest trying this deck out as I believe it gained the most out of any Modern deck from the new set.

Craig Wescoe

@Brimaz4Life