If Facebook and Twitter are any indication, I'm guessing people want to hear my thoughts on Kytheon, Hero of Akros (aka the new Gideon). I'm not sure why though. I mean, when was the last time I played an Elite Vanguard or triggered battalion?
Oh, right. I almost forgot...I'm Craig Wescoe.
Alright, fair enough. This card has gotten me pretty excited and I've been thinking a lot about its implications not only for Standard but also for Modern.
Let's start by looking at the card's restrictions in order to figure out what type of support is needed in order for Kytheon to be maximally efficient.
Detailed Card Breakdown
1. The first restriction is that the card is white, which for me isn't really a restriction at all, but I suppose for others it may be.
2. The second restriction is that it's a one mana creature, which can theoretically fit into any deck but is generally better suited in a more aggressive deck that can capitalize on the quick damage Kytheon is capable of producing if he is your first play of the game.
3. The third restriction is that in order to flip Kytheon you need to attack with two other creatures. This means that you either want other cheap creatures in your deck or token producers that can attack alongside Kytheon and flip him into Gideon. Dash also works especially well at quickly and unexpectedly flipping Kytheon.
4. The fourth restriction is that Kytheon is a legend, which means you can only have one on the battlefield at a time. This may limit the amount of copies you want to play in your deck, especially since you really need to draw other creatures to attack alongside Kytheon to flip him and thus having extra copies stranded in hand actively makes the one on the battlefield worse (in contrast to the scenario where the additional copy in hand is instead a different creature that you could cast and attack with to flip Kytheon into Gideon). Alternatively, this 'restriction' can also be an advantage with Hero's Blade. The restriction is also mitigated in that if you flip Kytheon, you can then cast the second one without it dying to the legend rule since the first one is now Gideon instead. You just can't flip the second one without losing your Gideon.
5. The fifth 'restriction' is that he's a human soldier. This doesn't really restrict anything but it's an attribute of the card that can be used advantageously. For instance, being a soldier can work with Obelisk of Urd or Preeminent Captain in Standard while being a human can work with Champion of the Parish and Cavern of Souls in Modern.
6. Once Kytheon flips into Gideon, you want to be able to maximally utilize all the abilities of Gideon too, the most notable of which is that you now have a 4/4 indestructible creature to attack with each turn. This will likely fit right into whatever deck you put Kytheon into because clearly your plan is to attack if you've managed to flip Kytheon. So this attribute of Gideon only further reinforces the first three restrictions of Kytheon.
7. Another attribute of Gideon is his +1 ability which untaps target creature and makes it indestructible until your next turn. This will usually be the ability used immediately the turn Kytheon flips into Gideon because it untaps one of the other two attackers and makes it indestructible so it can block to defend Gideon from a counter-attack. This can be especially useful if used on a creature with an activated ability such as Grim Lavamancer or the new Chandra, but also on a deathtouch creature like Deathmist Raptor.
8. The last ability of Gideon is his +2 ability which is akin to that of Gideon Jura but for only one creature of your choice instead of all the opposing creatures. Forcing the creature to attack Gideon can be especially effective if you have creatures that are large and/or vigilant and can block profitably. For instance, Intangible Virtue or Jeskai Ascendancy can be great with this ability. This also seems awesome with Hornet Nest since you first force the opponent's biggest creature to attack into your nest and then you force each subsequent creature to attack into your deathtouch tokens produced by the nest. While Hornet Nest is not ideal synergistically with Kytheon since the nest has defender, it works great with Gideon (and also great with Kytheon if you can manage to make hornets with the nest to attack alongside Kytheon). With all this said, the primary function of the +2 ability on Gideon is to tap the most relevant blocker in order to clear the way for your next attack. That will likely be the strategy involved in most cases where the +2 is used.
Now that we've gotten a sense for what the card is capable of and what sorts of cards work best with it, let's take a look at some of the most likely homes for Kytheon, Hero of Akros.
1. Monowhite Soldiers
Seriously though, where else was I going to start but with monowhite? This is the most straightforward way to utilize Kytheon, likely in place of Loyal Pegasus. I would also replace a pair of Spear of Heliods with an Obelisk of Urd and a Hall of Triumph. I might also try to add Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit somehow, maybe over a Launch the Fleet. Raise the Alarm and Secure the Wastes would also be cards to strongly consider for this deck.
The gist of this strategy is to play out little white weenies and attack, which is exactly the type of thing Kytheon wants to happen. The vigilance on Brimaz, King of Oreskos naturally works great with Gideon because the +2 ability will force opposing creatures to attack into Brimaz (e.g. Courser of Kruphix). As much as people tend to think of me as the "white weenie guy" I have rarely ever played the ultra-fast "all-in" weenie strategies that someone like Tom Ross gravitates more toward. I prefer to have more interaction in the midgame and a curve that goes up to four mana.
With that said, I did make Top 16 at GP Chicago last year playing a deck very similar to this except it used Ajani, Caller of the Pride to jump Gideon, Champion of Justice as its midgame plan. It also used Cavalry Pegasus to make all my humans, including Gideon, fly over all the green board stalls. It's possible that adding red for Goblin Rabblemaster and Akroan Crusader is the better strategy, but the mana gets a lot worse. Maybe also add in a dash of dash for Zurgo Bellstriker?
2. GW Collected Company
I've been logging in a lot of hours with GW Collected Company in Standard and I must say this new rookie Kyrie Irving, Hero of Akron looks really good alongside LeBrimaz, King James of Oreskos. I can definitely see these two winning a championship for the old Cleveland Cavalry Pegasus if they both stay healthy.
Between Collected Company, Den Protector, recurring Deathmist Raptors, and the high creature count in the deck, Kytheon will have plenty of opportunities to flip into Gideon. And with the deathtouch ability on Deathmist Raptor and the high toughness + vigilance combination on Brimaz, the +2 ability of Gideon is quite threatening in the deck.
Off the bench we have even more synergies when we bring in Hornet Nest. Look back at point #8 in the Detailed Card Breakdown section for more on this sweet combo. Suffice to say "target creature must attack into Hornet Nest this turn" has a nice (championship) ring to it.
3. Legend's Blade
This is the kind of stuff legends are made of. You have plenty of creatures to trigger Kytheon's 'battalion' requirement, and you also have the added upside of playing him as a 5/3 with a Hero's Blade on the battlefield, or as a 8/5 if you have double blade. I like the looks of this deck quite a bit, though I would like to see a few more removal spells in place of Outpost Siege and maybe also over one or two copies of the blade. Extra removal would at least be the place I start with the sideboard. Yasova Dragonclaw is also pretty sweet with Kytheon because it can steal an opposing blocker, attack with it as the third creature to trigger Kytheon's flip, and then untap as a 4/2 indestructible blocker to protect Gideon from the stolen creature after it returns to the owner's side at end of turn.
4. Jeskai Tokens
Dragon Fodder, Raise the Alarm, and Goblin Rabblemaster are some of the most efficient ways to quickly flip Kytheon and this version of Jeskai Tokens runs all of these. I might also consider Monastery Swiftspear, although that would push the deck pretty far into the aggro side of the spectrum. It's also possible that cutting blue altogether and adding more dash creatures would make for a better deck, similar to the RW Token deck I used to play with Wingmate Roc and Eidolon of Countless Battles.
While I expect Kytheon to be great in Standard, I also expect him to see play in Modern. Three particular decks seem best suited for what he has to offer.
1. Naya Zoo
Likely replacing Flinthoof Boar, Kytheon naturally fits well into this deck. In addition to Wild Nacatl and Kird Ape as cheap threats, Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear have haste and can thereby surprise trigger Kytheon on the second turn! Imagine first turn Kytheon backed by second turn Goblin Guide + Monastery Swiftspear, attacking for five damage and then flipping Kytheon into Gideon!
Another sweet interaction in this deck is Ghor-Clan Rampager on Kytheon after they block it because let's be real, who is not going to block Kytheon the turn it's going to flip into Gideon? Mutagenic Growth achieves essentially the same result in the dream scenario of flipping Kytheon on the second turn. "Oh, did you plan on blocking with your 2/2 Wild Nacatl you played on your first turn? How about you trade your cat for this Mutagenic Growth instead, take four from my Goblin Guide and Monastery Swiftspear, and I'll flip Kytheon into Gideon." 4/4 indestructible planeswalkers work even better with Ghor-Clan Rampager too!
2. 5C Humans
This deck has been on the fringe of playable for the past year or so. It takes advantage of all the most powerful humans and a few powerful non-humans as well. The mana is strange in that multicolor humans are the easiest cards to cast. Either way, Kytheon into Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, into Mantis Rider feels like a great curve. Kytheon essentially becomes the third one-drop alongside Champion of the Parish and Experiment One that can come out on the first turn and then be a 4/4 by the fourth turn.
I would like to fit some removal spells into this deck somehow and maybe also Collected Company, but it's possible that just playing all creatures and topping off with Rhino and Aristocrat is best. This is certainly a deck to keep on the radar. I'm also not sure why it doesn't run Noble Hierarch, so adding that in is also a thing to consider.
3. BW Tokens
Gather the Townsfolk and Raise the Alarm are great ways to quickly flip Kytheon. The hand disruption is also a way to protect Kytheon or to give you time to set up your token makers. Lingering Souls and Spectral Procession can also provide the necessary compatriots of combat for Kytheon. Intangible Virtue will make the +2 ability on Gideon more exciting as it forces opposing creatures to attack into your wall of 2/2 vigilant tokens.
BW Tokens is already a good deck and it looks like Kytheon could help diversify the types of threats that are posed. For instance, point removal spells such as Lightning Bolt are pretty bad against BW Tokens, so people quickly board those out against us. Without cards like Lightning Bolt in opposing decks, Kytheon could then really shine. People also tend to board in board sweepers against us, so turning into a planeswalker that can incidentally +1 to make a token indestructible means that post-sweeper we'll still have a token and a 4/4 Gideon to attack with.
Gideon, Battle-Forged is the only one-drop planeswalker ever printed! He can be flipped as early as the second turn (alongside a pair of haste creatures). He's a legend for Hero's Blade, a human for Champion of the Parish, a soldier for Obelisk of Urd, and an attacking white creature for Craig Wescoe. What more can you ask for?
I expect him to fit into BW Tokens, 5C Humans, and Naya Zoo in Modern, and I expect him to fit into various token-themed or Collected Company themed decks in Standard. Kytheon combines great with token makers, dash, and cheap creatures while Gideon works especially well in conjunction with vigilance, deathtouch, and large creatures. And the ability to force the opponent to attack into your Hornet Nest just has to be the best feeling in the world.
With so many awesome possibilities, I can't wait to start playing with the new Gideon!
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter