We saw the first knights in Alpha. [scryfall]White Knight[/scryfall] was a strong and efficient card by the standards of those days and still is for an uncommon. But there was also it’s dark counterpart, the [scryfall]Black Knight[/scryfall]. A flavor-win certainly, except that of course they could never actually fight due to their Protection abilities. Both saw some tournament play (I certainly played with both back in the day) and both have seen a number of reprints. White and black have also been pitted against each other in a similar way quite a few more times, often through knights.
This is specifically for white and black. There are other similar mirrors in white and red, but we’ll forget about those. Since the mirrors don’t sometimes come to be in the same set, I’ve placed these mirrors where the latter part was first printed. White has plenty more knights than this, but we are specifically interested in these pairs here. Black has some other ones as well, especially in Ixalan, but again, not interested in those.
Early on there weren’t that many pairs. The design teams hadn’t really discovered the great tool of using cycles and mirrors in their work the same way they have them now. Not that mirrors ever became quite as important as cycles (for a good reason). However, after the first few sets, mirrors became populous quickly, albeit losing their importance fairly quickly as well and these days we hardly see them at all.
It was one of the originals. It gave a strange precedent for black: it can apparently have certain abilities it doesn’t normally get, if there’s a white mirror for it. Black does get First Strike and used to get Protection, but they weren’t as common as in white, for which First Strike is primary and Protection used to be.
We won’t be seeing much of it any longer, but it did survive pretty well through the various Core Sets. It was there until Fifth Edition and was also printed in Magic 2010 and Magic 2011, as well as various products aimed at collectors. It does lose a bit in this regard to it’s mirror, because [scryfall]WHite Knight[/scryfall] was also in Legions and one duel deck, but mostly they are found in the same sets.
[scryfall]Order of the Ebon Hand[/scryfall] is a knight, even though it was originally a Cleric (now Cleric Knight). It is clearly in the Knight continuum as it had abilities black doesn’t have usually access to just because it happens to have a white counterpart in [scryfall]Order of Leitbur[/scryfall], which was also a Cleric originally (now Human Cleric Knight).
Their popularity actually resulted in [scryfall]Serrated Arrows[/scryfall] seeing some play (which was also partly due to a rule back in the day, where you had to have a certain number of cards from each set).
Again, quite strong for it’s day and would definitely stand on it’s own even today. In the days, when [scryfall]Swords to Plowshares[/scryfall] was the dominant removal, having Protection from White was a huge plus, so it saw a lot of play. It saw it’s first light in Fallen Empires (1995) and hasn’t been reprinted. Well, under that name. It did have what some cards in those early had: multiple arts in one set. Three to be exact, which is of course somewhat awkward, as you would like four different ones for your deck. For some reason they were common, despite being fairly powerful, and definitely wouldn’t be today due to the amount of text and extreme rules baggage of Protection.
The previous two from Fallen Empires received functional reprints in Ice Age (1995). These were knights from the beginning and have since been fixed to be Human Knights. They were back at uncommon and received a reprint in Fifth Edition.
Ice Age had another set of mirrored knights as well. They were originally Paladins, but that creature type was discontinued. These two particular examples feel more like clerics for their abilities. The counter ability was something any color could do back in the day to their enemy colors, even if they would be horrible color pie breaks these days, but these are more like black cards mirrored into white due to the life payment. For some reason, these rares were reprinted in both Fifth and Sixth editions.
This is a weird one. [scryfall]Northern Paladin[/scryfall] is from Alpha and was reprinted in core sets until Fourth Edition and later in the Seventh Edition. It’s cousin from the south, [scryfall]Southern Paladin[/scryfall] was introduced to us in Weatherlight (1997), while their black counterparts crashed in during next year’s Urza’s Saga (1998). They were all in Seventh Edition, while the black ones were once again reprinted in Eight Edition. The various versions of their flavor texts often referred to each other from the opposing side.
Invasion (2000) had this pair, which is once again more like a black card mirrored into white, as black often gets this sort of buff, although it’s not really in either color. These are once again rares and very powerful, if swingy.
While technically not knights (they are samurai), these two from Saviors of Kamigawa (2005) feel like part of the continuum and they definitely come from similar thinking and reflect ideas from the original pair.
These two from Coldsnap (2006) are clear callbacks to the knights from Ice Age. Rather than gaining First Strike, you can pay mana to make them fly.
This rare from Eventide (2008) obviously isn’t a mirrored pair, but in a sense it’s part of the history of these cards. It just happens to have both sides on this one card. (It just happens to be a personal favorite due to it’s versatily, so it gets a mention even if it really shouldn’t.)
Mirrodin Besieged (2011) had this pair of knights. They aren’t quite as mirrored as most of the cards here, but they do work very similarly, as they can both kill the opponent with five hits, even if they do it differently. These rares are quite popular, especially the white one now that [scryfall]Fatal Push[/scryfall] has become so popular.
Magic 2012 (2011) brought this pair as uncommons. I personally played each of them in various aggressive decks, but I don’t remember seeing much of them besides that, even though the Protection from Black was probably pretty strong around this time.
These two aren’t quite mirrored, as the black counterpart has an extra vampire synergy and is thus of different rarity (white being common and black being uncommon). I suspect there was some change here during development and thus the true pairing was lost.
That was a bit of low note to end on, but that’s the way things go. They don’t do as many of these as they used to, even though pairs are still part of their arsenal. It’s just that they aren’t as clearly pitted against each other any longer. Many of these were strong at one time or another and some still see plenty of play. Well, at least the Mirrodin Besieged ones. Many of these represent design philosophies about the color pie which have since been removed from the game, mostly the very powerful, but swingy color-specific abilities.
They have also streamlined the concept of a knight, because nowadays they are actually soldiers on horseback. At least most of the time.
UPDATE (March 2022): Not much to update really, so I edited the tags to work with the new library used on this blog. I decided to check if there have been any new developments in the last five years with Eldraine and Ixalan both having a major knight theme, but the only mirrored pair I could find for certain was actually from Dominaria.
These are a very nice throwback, but I don’t really like the design, because they just feel depressingly difficult to deal with in certain situations and that’s not what you want from your two-drops.