The unexpected announcement of the Pioneer format is shaping up to be a Magic highlight of 2019. We’ve seen a ton of unique decks emerge in the weeks since, many featuring cards and strategies which were banned or crowded out of Modern. As Michael Rapp observed in his metagame update, the Big Three decks right now seem to be Mono-Black, Mono-Green, and Golgari Field. In reaching this conclusion, Michael noted that “traditional, interactive midrange decks” were hard to come by right now.
Now, I’m no GP winner; I don’t have the muscle to try and upend the Pioneer status quo. Lucky for me, I know a guy who does.
Actually, I know eight of him.
GET GIDS OR DIE TRYING
He may not be one of the OG Lorwyn Planeswalkers, but Gideon Jura has been around for quite a while. In fact, that original version of Gideon is too old to be legal in Pioneer, but the remaining seven are all available. Why build our midrange deck around a stack of Gideons? There are many good reasons, which I, having toiled in the Gideon mines across several formats, will now unfold.
First, you get Gideon of the Trials — specifically, his emblem. This affordable Gideon is a great demonstration of the principles I advocated for making CMC3 Planeswalkers fair. His primary role is to neutralize a threatening permanent each turn; but he can defend us on other angles by forcing opponents to “go through him first.” This emblem got way better in August 2017 when the Legendary rules for Planeswalkers changed from “only one Gideon in play at a time” to “only one of each Gideon.” Now a viable defense against burn and combo decks, this effect is what comes to mind when most people hear “Gideon tribal.”
HARDER, BETTER, SLOWER, STRONGER
The most compelling reason to play the Gideons together is that they function as pseudo-creatures. Planeswalkers like Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Chandra, Torch of Defiance win by accumulating incremental value; you fight over that individual permanent and see if it gets to ultimate or not. But the Gideons win by beating down, which lets them join their efforts with other creatures — and other Gideons.
Now, you could play just a couple Gideons in a normal-looking creature curve. That seems sensible. But think about it: aren’t Gideons superior to regular creatures on every metric except “costing two mana or less”? As we discussed last week, current removal for ’walkers is very limited compared to answers for creatures. In their creature form, Gideons are immune to everything except instant-speed exile, bounce and sacrifice effects. They also can’t be killed by most creature combat, meaning math really is for blockers here! And most importantly, when their stats as creatures aren’t useful, they still contribute with their other abilities.
By playing a deck of mostly Gideons, we blank opposing creature removal and overload their stock of Assassin’s Trophy. We also dodge sorcery-speed creature interaction, which is a big deal with Oko and Teferi, Time Raveler running around. Playing cheaper creatures around them would just negate this advantage; instead, we’ll try a midrange strategy, adding black’s efficient discard and removal to protect our Gideons and ourselves. Forgoing creature spells lets us add Planeswalker synergies and some of Gideon’s super-friends; plus, it opens up a brutal counter-strategy for opposing creature decks.
COOL GIDS DON’T LOOK AT EXPLOSIONS
Against control and combo decks, our Gideons are usually in attack mode, doing their best Durkwood Boars impression as we apply a clock. But when we’re not the beatdown, they are often found clinging to life using their defensive abilities. Gideon of the Trials and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in particular negate roughly one attacker each per turn; several other Planeswalkers in Orzhov colors can do the same. Having to outnumber our Planeswalkers encourages aggro decks to commit heavily to the board, which is when we bust out the best reason to stack Gideons.
When your “creatures” are actually indestructible Planeswalker-creatures, every sweeper in your deck becomes a Plague Wind. Cast a sweeper, turn all your Gideons on, and swing for 14 or more! Orzhov colors give us a wealth of options to go heavy on this plan, from the bargain-priced Bontu’s Last Reckoning to Kaya’s Wrath to Planar Cleansing (still safe if you turn the Gideons on first!).
SLOWING THINGS DOWN TO OUR PACE
So, we’ve sung the praises of the Gideon beatdown plan, but what are the weaknesses? First of all, half the available Gideon cards aren’t very helpful. Gideon, Champion of Justice lacks utility, Kytheon is too hard to flip in a midrange deck, and the Planeswalker Deck versions are below the average power level of Pioneer. This leaves us Trials, Ally of Zendikar, and Blackblade. Not a bad core, but definitely needing some support.
The bigger issue is that Gideons don’t stop your opponent building board presence to overwhelm them. At best, they fog one attacker, and Blackblade doesn’t even manage that. To ensure we get the most out of our turn three Planeswalker, we need to set up earlier plays which help us defend them immediately. Ideally, we can do that without just playing a creature and turning opponents’ removal back on.
Black’s signature disruption is a great first step in this direction. Fatal Push, Collective Brutality, and Thoughtseize clear the way and make it more likely that you’ll untap with a Gideon. I also want to shout out a less-conventional option in Gideon’s Triumph. With this many Gideons in the deck, it’s often a party-sized Settle the Wreckage, and is perfectly acceptable as a one-for-one in a pinch. Just revealing one at some point is a powerful psychological weapon for the rest of the match! It also clears away big blockers which can stonewall your Gideon attacks otherwise.
TRUE STRENGTH COMES FROM THE HEART
Additional early options have proven hard to nail down, but at least the first choice is an easy one. Heart of Kiran was a force in a rocket-fueled Standard environment, and I’m pleased to announce that it’s still pretty great in Pioneer. Because the Gideons don’t care about reaching some high loyalty total to ultimate, we can activate the Heart in every combat. (Gideon Blackblade can even tap to crew it during your turn!) An extra 4/4 attacker helps us turn the corner even faster, and since it isn’t always a creature, we can navigate around potential removal and creatures. I wish we could play eight of them, but we can at least run a set of Mobilized District and activate it at a discount.
Options for our remaining one- and two-mana slots include The Elderspell, Thraben Inspector, Charming Prince, Dawn of Hope, Pack Rat, and Myth Realized. Most of these cards also encourage you to tweak the rest of the deck in their direction: prioritizing Liliana, the Last Hope alongside The Elderspell, for instance. Test different builds to find the best one for your meta!
JUMPING (GIDE)ON THE BANDWAGON
While I don’t have the cards to play this deck on MTGO, I have taken it to local paper events and done weeks of testing online and with friends. Early results have been very promising; Hardened Scales is the only problem match-up so far. With further tweaking to the interaction suite and sideboard, even that seems reparable. Adding some exiling removal through Declaration in Stone, Anguished Unmaking, or Kaya, Orzhov Usurper seems helpful against the Hangarback Walker deck!
4 Heart of Kiran
3 Oath of Kaya
2 Gideon’s Triumph
2 Fatal Push
2 Castle Locthwain
4 Caves of Koilos
4 Concealed Courtyard
4 Godless Shrine
4 Interplanar Beacon
4 Mobilized District
1 Snow-Covered Plains
2 Snow-Covered Swamp
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
3 Gideon of the Trials
3 Gideon Blackblade
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Kaya, Orzhov Usurper
2 Cleansing Nova
2 Collective Brutality
1 Bontu’s Last Reckoning
If you enjoy that kind of flexibility in targeting specific matchups, and the core idea of Gideons playing defense and offense appeals to you, then I’d welcome the help figuring out this fun new archetype. You can discuss some of the more niche lines and card choices with me over on Twitter. And if I manage to translate my success at locals into anything larger, you readers will be the first to hear about it!
Tom’s fate was sealed in 7th grade when his friend lent him a pile of commons to play Magic. He quickly picked up Boros and Orzhov decks in Ravnica block and has remained a staunch white magician ever since. A fan of all Constructed formats, he enjoys studying the history of the tournament meta. He specializes in midrange decks, especially Death & Taxes and Martyr Proc. One day, he swears he will win an MCQ with Evershrike. Ask him how at @AWanderingBard, or watch him stream Magic at twitch.tv/TheWanderingBard.