Last updated on December 8, 2023

Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir - Illustration by Simon Dominic

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.

This Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir deck maximizes the effectiveness of that eminence ability while enlisting an army of noble knights to ride down your foes. Let’s look at how it works!

The Deck

Forsworn Paladin - Illustration by Lorenzo Mastroianni

Forsworn Paladin | Illustration by Lorenzo Mastroianni

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.

Either way, you’ll be drawing and discarding lots of cards. You’ll fill up your graveyard with knights and cheat them into play with Sidar Jabari’s damage trigger.

The Commander

Sidar Jabari of Zhalfir

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.

Knights Errant

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.

These knights include the cycle of elemental cavaliers from Core Set 2020: Cavalier of Dawn, Cavalier of Gales, and Cavalier of Night.

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.

You also need some knightly lords, or knights that buff the rest of your knights. We’re all familiar with Kinsbaile Cavalier, Valiant Knight, and Knight Exemplar.

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

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.

Who needs to ride down your foes when you can just loop Knight of the Ebon Legion or Foulmire Knight from your graveyard to the battlefield over and over?

The Loot

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

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

Dihada's Ploy works about the same, with the added option to recur it later (or even on that same turn, with enough mana).

Monastery Siege gives you another free loot each turn without risking a knight in the combat phase, and you can always get those spare knights back with Palace Siege.

Ancient Excavation

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.

Spell Support

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

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.

Feast of Sanity

Hopefully, you’ll be discarding at least one card per turn, so Feast of Sanity should ping some opponents or destroy their mana dorks and Blood Artists.

Unbreakable Formation

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.

Void Rend and Bone Shards are your targeted removal spells. Bone Shards can help fill your graveyard, and Void Rend is just plain powerful.

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.

Non-Knight Knight Support

The wide variety of tribal-support cards means there are a ton of powerful options that aren’t specifically geared towards knights.

Reflections of Littjara

I’ve included Reflections of Littjara to two knights each for the price of one!

Kindred Discovery

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.

Herald's Horn

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.

The Mana Base

Without access to Rampant Growths and Cultivates, you have to focus on artifact-based ramp to keep pace with the rest of the pod. And of course, you need multicolor lands to fix your mana base.

The usual Sol Ring, Arcane Signet, and Commander's Sphere are present, plus all three Ravnican signets in Esper colors.

Where this deck differs is the inclusion of Phyrexian Altar, the final piece of your Haakon, Stromgald Scourge combo, and Bitterthorn, Nissa's Animus.

Sword of the Animist

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?

The Strategy

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.

Combos and Interactions

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!

Throw in any of cards like Corpse Knight, Syr Konrad, the Grim, or Locthwain Lancer and you can deal infinite damage to your opponents.

Rule 0 Violations Check

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.

Budget Options

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.

Other Builds

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?

What if Return Upon the Tide always met its conditions, and Ghoulcaller's Chant always got you two creatures?

Commanding Conclusion

Acclaimed Contender - Illustration by David Gaillet

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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