Much of the post-Pro Tour focus will of course be on Goblin Chainwhirler and the decks it appears in, as they constituted a huge proportion of the successful decks in Richmond. A card that had a much quieter weekend – languishing in the shadow of our new 3/3 overlord – was History of Benalia. It doesn't take too much to make me want to write about this saga, as it's one of my favorite cards of all time (history, knights, and that art - what's not to love?), and I kept an eye on the decks that sought to exploit it throughout the weekend.
There doesn't seem to be much of a consensus as to the best home for History of Benalia. White-Black aggressive strategies performed reasonably well, but have ongoing weaknesses to Goblin Chainwhirler. Green-white iterations look terrific on paper, but lack cohesion between creature threats and noncreature answers. White-blue versions seem to be less focussed control decks. Finally, branching into three colours to play Esper opens up some engaging avenues to explore further as we continue to look for ways to beat Goblin Chainwhirler.
Neris had the best result (8-2) of all those who turned up with this particular archetype. The raw power of the cards in this list speak for themselves; Karn, Lyra, and Gideon aren't to be trifled with. A second look at the list reveals an interesting goal it seeks to achieve as often as possible - between Toolcraft Exemplar, Scrapheap Scrounger, Knight of Malice and Gideon of the Trials, this deck seeks to consistently enable a turn-three attack with Heart of Kiran.
This isn't the only deck seeking to exploit the synergy between Knight of Malice and History of Benalia, and it's a nice fallback plan for when you can't quite get Heart beating down. History of Benalia also works very nicely with planeswalkers like Karn, as generating extra "free" blockers the turn you deploy a planeswalker heightens the chances of untapping it next turn. (As something of a side note, Karn didn't have a great weekend. While this isn't a finance column by any means, it should be obvious that the time to sell those Karns you've been sitting on is right now – there's no post-PT spike coming our way.)
So what's the issue? Firstly, playing four main deck copies of a one-toughness creature is asking for trouble, and Toolcraft Exemplar continues to be a liability against Chainwhirler. Additionally, the removal suite needs to be retooled to fight black-red decks more meaningfully. Their powerhouse four-drops require more respect, and so I'd immediately be looking for ways to include Seal Away in the starting 60 in addition to mass removal like Settle the Wreckage.
This list is awash with answers to all the hard-hitting red threats that dominate Standard today – Seal Away and Cast Out are clean answers to everything from Hazoret to Rekindling Phoenix. A nice 2/2 split of Settle the Wreckage and Fumigate also means you're not stone-cold dead to an early rush, especially in conjunction with powerful top-end like Angel of Sanctions and Ajani Unyielding.
The creatures, too, are well-chosen. Knight of Grace synergises nicely with History of Benalia, and Thrashing Brontodon is a superb way to contain Goblin Chainwhirler. Angel of Sanctions may be better positioned than Lyra Dawnbringer, given how important exiling opposing threats is right now. The lone question mark is the lone one-toughness creature, Merfolk Branchwalker. Oddly, however, I think the card is fine – the only way it dies to Chainwhirler is if you've already cashed in an explore trigger, leaving you even on cards.
The problem here is the inbuilt tension between playing a green-based creature deck with main deck Wrath effects. The creatures are efficient enough, but not the sort of game-winning haymakers that win the game on their own – that's the sort of card you traditionally pair with sweepers. I don't see curving two- and three-drop creatures into Fumigate as a winning line, and in trying to play both sides of the court this deck suffers something of an identity crisis. Settle the Wreckage is much more suited to our purposes here, so I'd cut the two Fumigates for an extra Settle and another Seal Away or Angel of Sanctions.
A list after my own heart! Any deck with Glacial Fortress and History of Benalia is going to make me sit up and take notice, and there's a lot going on here that I really like. Playing a more tempo-oriented game than other Teferi decks we've seen in Standard recently, this list foregoes cards like Fumigate to instead stay ahead with counters and spot removal, riding planeswalkers to victory.
History of Benalia plays a critical role in this list. Firstly, as discussed, curving History into Karn means a steady stream of blockers to lock down the board and let the Scion of Urza do his best work. Secondly, however, it also offers the opportunity to just get 'em - there will be occasion when an unsuspecting opponent, thinking they have to grind out a long game after your initial land drops, leaves themselves defenceless against the ten power History Benalia provides across its three chapters.
Main deck Negate is a terrific and very clever selection by Martin here, especially when you consider the list of noncreature threats in Standard (Heart, Teferi, Karn, Chandra, etc.) The 10 main deck counters are bolstered by more in the board, in addition to Fumigates to play more controlling post-board games.
Is this worth it? Is the main deck configuration meaningfully better than the hard control lists that play four Teferi and nothing else? It's not clear that this fancier approach to white-blue has more going for it than just the surprise factor. I'm very ready to be wrong about this – I hope to be, in fact – but at first blush it seems that this isn't the best Teferi deck on offer, no matter how much heavy lifting History of Benalia may do.
Everyone's favorite Lantern master Piotr "Kanister" Glogowski put together a delightful Esper list with no fewer than 12 Knight cards (swoon), and sought to combine some of Standard's most objectively powerful cards with the capacity for absurdly aggressive starts. Eight two-drop Knights in conjunction with History of Benalia means that this deck can unload ridiculous amounts of damage on turn five – as many as five Knights can benefit from the +2/+1 trigger!
Pleasingly, the deck isn't all-in on the beatdown plan, however. Planeswalkers, removal and huge threats like The Scarab God means this deck has a level of flexibility in how it approaches gameplay (without built-in nonbos like cheap creatures and Fumigate). I think Seal Away is a better option than Cast Down as removing Hazoret and Rekindling Phoenix is crucial, and it's not clear that Hostage Taker is better than something like Settle the Wreckage.
The blue splash meaningfully differentiates this deck from other white-black lists. Moving away from Toolcraft Exemplar and focusing on a big top-end with Scabby G is one dimension, but the other hugely impactful card in this 75 is Negate, three of which are found in the board. Duress and Negate are just about the best post-board cards in the format and giving yourself access to a mix of them makes your games two and three a lot easier to navigate.
History of Benalia still has a role to play in Standard, and these four decklists go to show that the best home for the card hasn't yet been found. Beyond History of Benalia, white has a lot to offer any deck looking to contest the current format with things like Seal Away, Cast Out, and Angel of Sanctions. The real questions arise when deciding on a second (or even third) color.
Pairing the saga with other Knights is quite obviously the dream, but from there the path remains unclear. I really like Thrashing Brontodon in a world of Goblin Chainwhirlers and Hearts of Kiran; I really like The Scarab God as a powerhouse with a proven track record; I really like the defensive applications of History of Benalia when seeking to protect something like a Karn.
Further investigation is required as to the best iteration of enchantment-based white decks. The red decks of the format aren't particularly well-equipped to deal with the angles from which History of Benalia-based decks will attack, and it seems likely that white cards like Seal Away and Settle the Wreckage are a huge part of containing the decks that currently dominate Standard.
- Riley Knight