Last updated on December 8, 2023
Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir | Illustration by Simon Dominic
There’s nothing in all the various fantasy warzones across the Multiverse that quite compares to the thunderous charge of knights beating their way across the battlefield. One of Magic’s newest legendary knight commanders, Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir, is the first to include blue. Sidar Jabari is also the first eminence card printed since Commander 2017, an ability that’s triggered while the card is still in the command zone that effectively makes it un-interactable.
Forsworn Paladin | Illustration by Lorenzo Mastroianni
Foulmire Knight // Profane Insight
Knight of the Ebon Legion
Knight of the White Orchid
Marshal of Zhalfir
Smitten Swordmaster // Curry Favor
Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
Skyhunter Strike Force
Herald of Hoofbeats
Cavalier of Dawn
Cavalier of Gales
Cavalier of Night
Knights of the Black Rose
Nymris, Oona's Trickster
Syr Konrad, the Grim
Elenda and Azor
Path of Ancestry
Temple of Deceit
Temple of Enlightenment
Temple of Silence
Vault of the Archangel
In this Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir deck, you’re looking to filter through your deck using your commander’s built-in loot ability until you can either overwhelm your foes with hoof and lance or combo out with Haakon, Stromgald Scourge.
Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir is the noble general of Zhalfir’s military, known for his diplomatic demeanor and grounded tactics. Jabari’s eminence ability won’t launch you into an aggressive strategy à la Edgar Markov or The Ur-Dragon, and it’s even less aggressive than other knight tribal legends like Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale.
Rather, Sidar Jabari spends several turns carefully considering the board state and watching your opponents’ moves until you can prepare the battlefield for a devastating charge. Overall it’ll play slower than the other eminence commanders, but access to blue means you have more control elements to take you into the late game.
Essential to any knight themed deck are, well, the knights. This deck runs a slew of “generally good” knights that don’t necessarily synergize with the others but are considered good value on their own.
There’s also some great attackers like Mirran Crusader, Nymris, Oona's Trickster, and Elenda and Azor. Each of these knights’ stats and abilities make them safe to attack with each turn, by virtue of having built-in evasion or a strong body.
March of the Machine’s Commander decks released two new lords in blue that are perfect for Jabari: Herald of Hoofbeats makes your entire board effectively unblockable, and Vodalian Wave-Knight can easily put two or more counters on your knights each turn.
Marshal of Zhalfir doubles down on your lord effects since you can’t ever have too many of those.
A handful of knights exist to supplement your combo win condition. Haakon, Stromgald Scourge and any of your 1-drop knights like Forsworn Paladin are two of the three pieces you need to execute infinite enters-the-battlefield and leaves-the-battlefield triggers. Combine with Breathless Knight or Corpse Knight and that’s the game.
The spoils of war can be yours alongside Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir’s loot ability. While drawing then discarding cards is generally worse than simply drawing, you actually want to fill your graveyard with knights so your commander can reanimate them when it deals damage to an opponent. One guaranteed loot effect with each attack is fine, but you’ll need more horsepower to keep this engine running.
Frantic Search is one of my favorite loot effects since it’s effectively free to cast and can dig up some options when you’re running out of cards.
Dihada's Ploy works about the same, with the added option to recur it later (or even on that same turn, with enough mana).
Don’t count Ancient Excavation out. Its high mana cost means its typically relegated to the late-game, but pitching it early for a basic land is more valuable than you’d think in a deck without access to green’s ramp spells.
S-U-P-P-O-R-T. These knights need some supporting spells to keep the battlefield under control until they can pierce through the enemies’ defenses.
Aqueous Form is the number-one best aura to slap on Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir. Scrying before you loot can really push the effectiveness of its ability, and making it unblockable means you’ll always get a knight back onto the battlefield after your commander attacks.
Unbreakable Formation is your best defense against board wipes, with the added benefit of being a great offensive spell when played during your main phase.
Speaking of board wipes, you shouldn’t shy away from clearing the battlefield to deal with single threats. You can recover from a Wrath of God easily with Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir’s second ability or use Patriarch's Bidding to get your entire army back at once.
Sometimes, you just need to get that one creature back without Sidar Jabari’s ability. You can use Unburial Rites and Animate Dead to bring your Herald of Hoofbeats back into play before swinging in with an unblockable cavalry charge.
The wide variety of tribal-support cards means there are a ton of powerful options that aren’t specifically geared towards knights.
I’ve included Reflections of Littjara to two knights each for the price of one!
Kindred Discovery is one of the better cards from its cycle, and it's guaranteed to draw you a lot of cards if it goes unanswered.
Don’t forget to blow the Herald's Horn as you charge downhill into your opponents’ battleline, either. Nothing rouses the spirit and calls knights to war like the clarion call of war horns.
Creature-heavy decks without green commonly ramp with Sword of the Animist, but Bitterthorn is better in a Sidar Jabari deck because it triggers your The Circle of Loyalty (not even considering the Germ token it creates to start fetching immediately).
You really can’t afford to miss a land drop in this deck, so it runs a whopping 37 lands, including the cycle of Temples, “Checklands,” and, uh, “Handlands?” What do you call the cycle of Port Town / Choked Estuary / Shineshadow Snarl lands, anyways?
Let’s review: Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir’s looting ability can trigger from the start of the game, so your game plan is to do that as often as you can. Fill the graveyard with knights, then play your commander and swing around the board with an ever-replenishing army of knights. Your anthemic lords boost the power of your creatures and take them from a threatening board to an unstoppable lance. Alternatively, hunt down your Haakon, Stromgald Scourge and Phyrexian Altar and combo out.
The best hand you can keep in this deck has your best ramp, one of your combo pieces, and a tutor. Absent that, any three-land hand with some early plays is serviceable. It’s important to remember that you won’t be ramping besides with your mana rocks, so I don’t advise keeping anything with two or fewer lands.
Knight of the White Orchid can do lots of work early game, especially if you can “trade up” into your opponents with it and return it to the battlefield later with Sidar Jabari. Attacking with your 1- and 2-drops early to loot off of your eminence ability is crucial; there’s no point in attacking with your commander if there’s nothing juicy to reanimate. Feel free to toss out the higher-mana value knights like Syr Konrad, the Grim or Cavalier of Night. Rest assured you’ll return them much more cheaply once your commander arrives.
Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir typically hits the field on turn five or six. By then, you should have a graveyard full of knightly lords ready to reanimate. Once you’ve sufficiently protected Sidar with a Whispersilk Cloak or Aqueous Form, all that’s left is to start swinging. Bonus points if you can time a huge attack with History of Benalia’s final chapter.
If you’ve found yourself locked down by too many stax effects or blocked by that dang token deck, you can use Buried Alive to tutor up Haakon, Stromgald Scourge and any of your 1-drop creatures, and loot as hard as you can until you pull Phyrexian Altar. These three cards plus any of your aristocrats-like effects equals an instant victory for the knights of Zhalfir.
There’s one nasty combo this deck uses to win. Phyrexian Altar enables so many broken interactions, but this one is unique to a knight tribal deck. You need each of Haakon, Stromgald Scourge, Phyrexian Altar, and any 1MV knight like Knight of the Ebon Legion.
Sacrifice the 1-mana knight to Phyrexian Altar, making one black mana. Then, use Haakon’s ability to cast that knight from the graveyard for one mana. Rinse and repeat!
This infinite combo isn’t intractable because you need to cast the knight from your graveyard and sorcery speed. It’s not infallible. The deck doesn’t necessarily need it to win, so I suppose you could swap out that combo for a more combat-damage focused strategy.
This deck comes in at about $213 for the cheapest printings of the singles. That feels about average for a mildly-upgraded EDH deck these days, but you should take into consideration many of the essential knight cards in this deck are sold together in the Cavalry Charge precon deck from March of the Machines. You can save an easy $50 right off the bat by starting there and purchasing small upgrades over time.
If you’re looking to purchase the entire deck at once but aren’t interested in spending quite so much, there are some easy cuts. Kinsbaile Cavalier is semi-redundant in a deck with Valiant Knight, and Cavalier of Dawn and Cavalier of Night are expensive top-end creatures.
Instead, grab some cheaper knights like Knight of the Last Breath or more anthem effects like Thistledown Liege and Glen Elendra Liege. Kindred Discovery is another card that, while powerful, can be replaced with a cheaper option. Instead, you can refill your hand with Icon of Ancestry or Reconnaissance Mission.
While this Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir deck splits the difference between a simple knights deck and a combo deck, those aren’t the only way to build around this commander. For example, any tribal deck with access to blue and black can play Conspiracy and Arcane Adaptation, as well as any number of blue’s creature type-manipulation cards.
What if you built a knight deck without a single knight? That’s beside your commander, of course. I bet there are some confusingly complex combos you could execute by making other creatures count as knights. A sort of “tribal tribal” deck, where you can run Lord of the Unreal alongside Diregraf Captain and Chief of the Edge?
Acclaimed Contender | Illustration by David Gaillet
It’s always exciting when we get another (non-elf) tribal commander, especially when it’s a very unique take on that creature type’s typical mechanics. Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir tops it off by bringing back eminence in a much “fairer” incarnation.
What are some of your favorite knights to run in Esper? How does Sidar Jabari compare to other knight commanders like Syr Gwyn, Hero of Ashvale and Aryel, Knight of Windgrace? Let me know in the comments, or over on Draftsim's official Twitter.
Thanks for reading, and take care not to stand directly behind the horse!
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