Hey ho, Lords and Ladies! Welcome back to another edition of Under the Hood; an article series where we look into the mechanical history of Magic and have a root around for what we can find! This week comes a blast from the past: the knightly mechanic of Flanking.
We first saw Flanking in Mirage block, as a flavourful manifestation of knightly combat (and does a better job than Horsemanship, I must say). When a creature with flanking is blocked by a creature without flanking, that creature is inherently at a disadvantage because of the creature’s manoeuvrability (represented in this case by -1/-1). Being flavoured around knights – small creatures by Magic’s standards – the creatures it was on were never particularly large, but the addition of flanking plus white and red’s affinity for combat tricks makes even the smallest flanking creature a cause for concern to a would-be blocker. It’s important to note that it only works when attacking – for the very good reason that you could multiblock and get multiple triggers on one attacker, but can’t multi-attack onto one blocker, save the creatures like Hundred-Handed One (or banding, but screw that). The presence of flanking in a format also makes X/1s much worse, as a Suq’ata Lancer doesn’t need to worry about a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben if it hits before first strike even matters. I for one may be alone in this, but I can’t wait to see the return of flanking in force – it’s a simple, yet flavourful mechanic that shapes the way combat works without overwhelming it, like First Strike.
In terms of standard impact, a few flankers made it into top decks during Mirage block standard, having their time in the sun before the awkward period of Combo Winter descended upon us. In this batch of Decklists from PT Paris ’97, we can see that flankers such as Suq’ata Lancer, Cadaverous Knight or Searing Spear Askari showed up in various aggro builds; though notably not many of the white cards of this primarily white mechanic made much of a showing; though from this list (and others of the era), it seems like white didn’t make much of an impact on this era, and when it did it was in a Wx control shell, often benefitting heavily from blue’s tempo creatures such as Man-o’-war or Waterspout Djinn.
As for any other format; nothing of note has been seen. The quality of creatures have vastly improved, and dropping a Cadaverous Knight is laughed at by Delver of Secrets, Tarmogoyf or Deathrite Shaman. Answers to the pseudo-vanilla beaters are just too good, and without a decent enough body flanking creatures will continue to struggle to make an impact on any format… Except EDH!
Implications on EDH
In the wide open plain of EDH, the effectiveness on flankers will vary depending on the meta. If the meta plays heavily to ramping out fatties with decks like Omnath, Locus of Rage, or Nylea, god of the Hunt, then you might as well be playing vanilla 1/1s. Likewise, in a meta that doesn’t play on the board and prefers the stack; decks like Mizzix of the Izmagnus, Riku, Zur the Enchanter, then you may just prefer playing something more aggressive.
But, there are openings. Ones that hate on those players, but typically run answers so narrow that weenie aggro can open it right up. Something staxxy, that runs paper-thin creatures such as Aven Mindcensor, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Spirit of the Labyrinth… These all die before they can damage a flanker. Even some of the bigger hatebears such as Gaddock Teeg or Ethersworn Canonist can’t kill the average flanker. It takes very specific conditions, but I believe your average flanker can be great.
Flanking’s come up again in recent times as well, with the printing of Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa. While he only hits some of the flanking colours (primary in Red as well as White), he’s a great start towards the sort of strategy that a flanking deck would be interested in; providing some much needed evasion to small bodies while also not being an easy combat target himself, with the Partner ability to allow for another colour enabler to get him his sweet Telim’tor.
In terms of allstars of the flanking variety, I have a couple in mind. First of all, the most flexible piece of flanking tech, Jabari’s Banner. With this, you can turn any creature into a flanker; be it big and trampling, or something like Phage or Guiltfeeder that you’d prefer to not be chump blockable. Having no colour identity allows it to fit into any deck, though obviously not every strategy would be able to take full advantage of it due to flanking’s aggressive nature as a mechanic.
As for the Flanking deck, Shout out to my guys Cavalry Master and Telim’Tor. When running a critical mass of creatures with Flanking, these creatures make life very uncomfortable for opposing decks. Suddenly x/2’s can’t block safely either, or they’re being threatened by the red version of Pathbreaker Ibex (and they might be given even less time to react, if you have Concordant Crossroads or Hall of the Bandit Lord).
Perhaps my favourite (and possibly the singly most powerful flanker) is the Pentarch Paladin. While a pricey (and difficult to splash) inclusion in a deck, this guy hates colours like no other paladin would. Once he loses summoning sickness, he lets loose on every permanent of that colour. Creatures, Planeswalkers, he doesn’t care. You pick the colour, and you can destroy it. And to top it, he gets flanking too; he can take out creatures mid-attack, blockers in an unfavorable trade, Planeswalkers on the brink of ultimate; this guy does it all, and he does it (relatively) cheap, to boot.
As is quickly becoming tradition here at Under the Hood, allow me to present the deck, headed by Honorable Sidar Kondo himself:
Terrible puns aside, this deck is a Knight tribal deck, boasting a hefty 39 creatures, half of them possessing Flanking. Lead by Sidar Kondo (and assisted by Bruse Tarl), this Naya deck aims to ride on the field and gradually overwhelm with efficient weenies. The commanders synergise with an aggro strategy, Kondo enables evasion on your weenies, and Bruse allows your knights to hit hard, and make combat even more difficult to be on the receiving end of.
Its built to be an aggressive build, featuring a low 35 land, and a rock suite to allow you to accelerate to the top of your curve. You won’t have much of a hand, and for that there are card advantage effects such as Brass Herald or Sylvan Library to power your draws once your hand runs thin.
Aggro is difficult in multiplayer, and thats why there are plenty of lords along with the necessary tutors in order to find them to keep pressing the advantage. Knight Exemplar gives our board resilience to board wipe effects on top of an anthem, and Kinsbaile Cavalier doubles the damage your knights can put out at a moment’s notice. Double strike synergises well with our enchantments, as Break through the Line allows us to ping chunk of 2-4 (sometimes more by pumping after the unblockable effect has been applied – thanks Zhalfirin Commander). The true haymaker comes in Shared Animosity; +X/+0 is a lot across the team, and upwards of 2 every combat becomes difficult to deal with over time; doubling that with Kinsbaile Cavalier shortens the clock dramatically.
Thats it for now, guys! Like Flanking? Hate it? Indifferent? Be sure to let me know – any suggestions for future additions for Under the Hood are appreciated. Also if you like what you see, be sure to like our Facebook feed for updates on future articles! For now though, Unmistakable out.