Do you like slapping your opponents for minor amounts of damage each turn? I do.
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Kytheon, Hero of Akros is a value deck that is trying to create value by hitting your opponents every turn with swords that have combat damage/damage to player triggers. While you are building your value engine, you interact with your opponents by utilizing some of the best hate cards in the game (thanks white) and possibly threaten burst damage to get commander kills with Kytheon.
“The Secret to playing this deck is that this deck is really a mono-white cantrip deck”
The secret to playing this deck is that this deck is really a mono-white cantrip deck. We have equipment and lands that can be used to dig through our deck to find the cards we need to either hate our opponents out or build a combo burst damage turn to assassinate the most threatening player at the table. The best part of the deck is that even if you are drawing hate cards that are not impactful to what your opponents are doing you can usually draw enough cards to where you reach the card you want to reach or a tutor effect that finds the card you need. In the worst case scenarios when these irrelevant hate effects are creatures you can buff them up with swords and do a lot of work (yay damage!)
Usually decks like this Kytheon deck are very weak against inevitable decks that are trying to overwhelm the board with resources or raw power. Fortunately for us having white gives us access to Armageddon, Catastrophe, Ravages of War, and Cataclysm. Because you control the pace that these cards are cast you can setup your board to be the only relevant board after these effects resolve if you time it right. If your opponents don’t have a boardstate and you are left with a value engine you probably are going to win. This deck is also highly customizable. The core of the deck isn’t that large so there are a ton of cards that you can swap out to customize your deck against what you usually play against.
At a distance this deck looks like an aggro deck, but don’t let that fool you. The real reason why we have Kytheon is because we want a reliable creature to insert into our value engine or for use in a commander kill scenario. Because this build of Kytheon runs almost no mana rocks we would normally be heavily punished if we were all-in on the aggro plan and our Kytheon got removed. But because our deck is built to grind out games and build a long term value engine we don’t usually need to rush anything. You don’t have to cast Kytheon turn 1 but there are plenty of other turn 1 plays that you can employ instead.
Why not Isamaru, Hound of Konda? Even though the hound has 2 toughness I feel like Kytheon’s ability to turn indestructible at a moment’s notice makes him slightly more playable. You can run Isamaru, I don’t see any problems with the legendary hound. Isamaru is probably better if a lot of your opponents can create 1/1 creatures.
Kytheon transforming into Gideon, Battle-Forged is rare, but it can have its upsides. His untap ability is busted with Stoneforge mystic or Stonehewer giant. It is also good if you expect your opponents to Wrath the board. Usually Gideon is awkward for your boardstate though if you were using Kytheon as your value vessel because all the equipment falls off of him when he transforms and you have to pay again for all your equipment to refit onto Gideon if you use his +0 effect (and do it each turn if you are trying to commander kill with Gideon). Note that Kytheon and Gideon share the amount of damage dealt when considering commander kill damage. So if you deal 10 with Kytheon and 12 with Gideon that will be enough for a commander kill.
How to Best Utilize your Hate Cards
White has the best hate cards in the entire game. We only need a few of them to really hose our opponents. But White’s hate cards have a problem: most of them are cast at sorcery speed. This lets any deck that has bounce spells or instant speed non-creature removal easily bypass the hate wall you are trying to set up.
A good example to use is the card Rest in Peace. This is a card considered by many to be the best graveyard hate card ever printed. It’s good at exiling creatures and spells while its on the field, and it exiles all graveyards when it enters the battlefield. If you cast rest in peace turn 2 your opponents are obviously not going to commit their cards to the graveyard. What I prefer to do is wait until my opponent has committed to the graveyard at least a little bit. That way even if Rest in peace were destroyed you would have exiled something relevant.
The window to play sorcery speed hate cards does not last for long. If your opponents know you can easily wipe their graveyards they might choose to play around it and wait until they can do all their effects in 1 turn without giving you the opportunity to play your sorcery speed effect. Because of this you are somewhat forced to play the hate eventually.
Some of the hate cards are creatures. Apply the same strategies to these cards as well. In this deck its nice that some of the hate cards are creatures because you can suit them up with equipment that give them protection from spot removal.
Burst Damage cards
Sometimes Kytheon can threaten huge bursts of damage to kill players with commander damage. There are tons of combinations of equipment that can snowball your Kytheon but there are a few cards that are especially explosive. They are Battle mastery, Ajani, Caller of the pride, elspeth, knight-errant, and strata scythe.
Battle mastery, Ajani, Caller of the pride, and elspeth, knight-errant can offer huge bursts of damage but because they come from white sources you need to be able to sequence your plays right if you also need to equip a protection from White equipment (or Lightning Greaves if you choose to run that). Strata Scythe offers the largest damage boost in your deck but gives you no evasion.
“If you wanted an actual combo in the deck you could run Worldslayer alongside Darksteel plate.”
Inquisitor’s Flail is another option that could add some more burst damage to the deck. If you wanted an actual combo in the deck you could run Worldslayer alongside Darksteel plate. Equip both of them to a creature and when it connects to a player you destroy everything but the creature, Darksteel plate, and Worldslayer. This combo sounds unreasonable to achieve but when you have cards like Sigarda’s Aid, Puresteel Paladin, Stoneforge Mystic, Shimmer Myr, and especially Stonehewer giant there are many angles that you can threaten this combo from.
Playing around removal
The worst way this Kytheon deck can get blown out is if you commit all of your mana to suiting up a creature and your creature gets killed before it can connect for damage and the value. If your creature dies after generating value its not that big of a deal. Kytheon has a low CMC and there are plenty of other creatures in your deck.
Sequencing the way you equip your artifacts becomes harder when you get into the mid to late game when you need to equip several equipments in one turn. Think about what colors your opponent’s spot removal consists of and try to equip that color of sword first before you commit to the other equipment. Once the creature you are trying to push through has its various protections, or hexproof you can invest everything you have to deal tons of damage or profit from several damage triggers. Note: it is very difficult to play around instant speed sacrifice effects.
Attacking from Flexible Angles
If you find your creatures getting spot removal’ed consistently while moving to equip consider approaching from another angle. As from before, Sigarda’s Aid, Puresteel Paladin, stoneforge mystic, shimmer myr and Stonehewer giant are really good at giving you options on when you cast your equipment or when they can be equipped. Stonehewer is the strongest card in the deck if you can untap with it in play. Puresteel Paladin is good in the early game as a free cantrip and equip effect. In the late game Puresteel serves as a crazy combo piece that allows you to stack crazy amounts of equipments and buffs onto a single creature. Sigarda’s Aid and Shimmer Myr are your trump cards vs control decks that want to pick apart your value engine when you try to equip everything. They are good because they allow you to play around sorcery speed effects and deny instant-speed decks the information they desire when mapping out their turns.
Combo: When playing against combo you are either trying to race to a burst damage turn with Kytheon to kill the combo player or you are trying to find the right hate card that blocks them from winning the game outright. I would tend to play more aggressively against a combo deck because I feel like even if they run spot removal you would rather have it hit your creatures/swords that way your hate card or other value engine sticks. I also think that the more interaction that happens between Kytheon and a combo deck the better it ends up for Kytheon because Kytheon is probably better at regaining cards, lands, etc. Understand the combo deck’s timings and use Wasteland and Strip mine very aggressively. If your metagame is full of combo I would recommend these changes: + Thought-Knot Seer, + Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, + Cursed Totem, – Sword of Light and Shadow, – Transcendent Master, and – Hidden Dragonslayer.
Control: I think these are the types of decks we want to fight against. We have 4 types of Armageddon effects in our deck so our main goal against them is to wait for a turn to arrive where they tap out and we body slam them with Armageddon. The only trick to this is mapping out your turns so that you come out on top after Armageddon resolves. That’s not hard with Land Tax, Sword of the Animist, Weathered Wayfarer, Etc. I don’t have good deck edit suggestions vs Control but I do know that cards that are super resilient vs them are what you are usually going to want to tutor for. These are cards like Kjeldoran Outpost that can constantly give you 1/1s to equip swords with. Equipment that lets you draw cards are at a premium in these matches. Bringing in the Worldslayer/Darksteel Plate combo package is actually very doable because you will have a lot of time to assemble the combo.
Aggro/Midrange: The most important mechanics in this matchup are usually lifelink and vigilance. Lifelink obviously lets you start to get out of range of the 1 turn kill potential that some aggro decks are capable of and the vigilance makes attacking very awkward (or sometimes worthless if you have lifelink as well, thanks Batterskull!). Against these types of decks own the role of control. Tutor Umezawa’s Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice to slaughter the small creature decks. Sword of Feast and Famine is probably better vs the Gruul style midrange decks where creatures have toughness 4 and greater. Thalia, Heretic Cathar causes lots of problems for these decks too (both mana and creature development, and sudo-counters the haste mechanic).
What are your experiences with Kytheon? Tell us more in the comments below!