While Aetherworks Marvel is the king of the Standard metagame, it no longer looks like a one-deck spinfest. B/G Snek has proven to be more than a fluke in the hands of Shaun McLaren, Lukas Blohon, and Sam Pardee. Vehicles decks have also made a major resurgence with the re-addition of blue, and in some cases, slashing red entirely.
Today I'll focus on the variants of Vehicles. Jeskai and Esper Vehicles have both put up results at the GP and local level, and are solid choices against a Marvel-infested meta. I won a PPTQ a little over a week ago with the Jeskai build created/popularized by Gold-level pro Donald Smith. After another week of tweaking and adjusting to the Magic Online metagame, this is my current list.
Stretching your mana base to its absolute limit gives you the ability to interact with Marvel while keeping your pressure intact. You have one of the best sideboards in the format due to your rainbow lands and ease of switching plans. While cutting Unlicensed Disintegration from the deck seemed like blasphemy, this was a case where killing your darlings was appropriate for the metagame.
While this was true for the triple Standard GP weekend, I'm not so sure about it now. People seem to feel more comfortable about playing non-Marvel strategies at this point, and the extra mana variance and inferior removal weakens you against decks like B/G or Zombies. Some builds have taken to running the bare minimum of energy producers to support Aether Hub and have gone back to a pair of Disintegrations to compensate.
My variation on the deck has black removal tucked away in the sideboard, along with a sideboard Shambling Vent to help the mana. I do think that as creature decks and the Temur Marvel midrange plan gain traction, it's important to keep removal spells in the deck. Cards like Fatal Push and Disintegration are miles better than their red and white counterparts, despite the extra strain on your mana.
I've been playing around with the 5-drop slot a lot, as I think Archangel Avacyn, Glorybringer, and Angel of Sanctions all bring their own unique role to the deck. In the case of Glorybringer, the Flametongue Kavu of the new age, you have the most aggressive and best answer to planeswalkers. Glorybringer is likely the best 5-drop in the mirror since it eats everything except Heart of Kiran and can instantly haumph a Gideon. When the typical worst-case is eating a creature and trading with Heart of Kiran, that's pretty good.
Against Zombies and U/W Flash, I still prefer Archangel Avacyn—her surprise indestructible is rarely played around and her board wipe can be game-winning. She remains the best all-around card for the slot and the one I'd be most likely to keep main deck if I were going to add a 5-drop.
Angel of Sanctions is a new threat I've been trying out, mostly as a replacement for Nahiri. Her ability to eat a Marvel, Chandra, or Ulvenwald Hydra gives her a ton of versatility against Marvel post-board. She's difficult to remove and can come back for round 2 even if your opponent kills her. Against decks like B/G or the Fumigate sideboard plan out of Vehicles, you can greatly frustrate opponents unable to permanently deal with her.
On Spell Queller: You can't be afraid to just jam a vanilla Queller. The same goes for using it when you know it'll immediately die on the next turn. Sometimes all you need out of it is to push through that extra bit of damage or prevent Marvel from getting to its 6th energy. You do not have enough card manipulation or countermagic to lock your opponent out of the game while attacking with an Exemplar or Scrounger each turn.
I've started shaving Spell Queller on the draw, especially against decks that retain a significant removal count. On the play, it makes sense to protect your early creature threats—a Time Walk can easily win you the game. But this is less and less likely post-board, and often your deck is no longer configured to take advantage of Queller.
If I were going to choose one reason to play this… ambitious mana base over Esper, it's Veteran Motorist. Motorist smooths your draws and ups your number of 2-drop threats to 12. At that point it's unlikely that you won't have some form of early pressure. Meanwhile, it increases your clock when the ground stalls out and you're swinging with only Heart or Harvester to race.
With the massive reduction in Walking Ballista compared to pre-Amonkhet, Motorist's 1 toughness isn't that big of a deal. As Marvel decks cut Whirler Virtuoso, Motorist aren't even bad as an attacker anymore. Trading it for a Servant or Rogue Refiner isn't bad at all.
For sideboarding, I'd recommend looking over my last article, or Ondrej's latest. I agree with his sideboard plan, with the exception of the Zombies match, where I feel you need to keep Scroungers in to consistently crew. It's too easy for Zombies to keep your board clear and negate your Vehicles otherwise.
The 25th land is debatable, but I'd recommend a Fumarole or Vent before I went back to Needle Spires. Vent gives you extra black sources if you want to bring in black removal and lifelink is far more relevant than double strike. Fumarole is better at clocking and can crew Heart in a pinch. You may be better off running the 25th land main deck, but the flood games feel so bad.
As for matchups, I've seen pros say that they're favored against Jeskai Vehicles post-board—that hasn't been my experience at all. It could be a case of a disconnect between the top Marvel player and the average one. Once you learn to no longer rely on Queller and keep removal in to deal with Tracker/Hydra, it felt like playing against a worse version of Temur Energy.
Once again, the key is to stay aggressive and not cut too many of the cards that let you do that. You also should never respect Censor or Negate post-board unless you're way ahead, and be willing to cut some number of Quellers for game 3 if you see Sweltering Suns or Radiant Flames. Swapping out Harnessed Lightning and Harvester is still correct, but bringing in Disintegration is a good idea.
Temur Energy is rather difficult game 1 because Glorybringer is such a beating. Plus, if they don't turn-2 Longtusk Cub, you could make the wrong play based on the assumption your opponent is on Marvel. Post-board, you bring in all your extra removal and try to outlast them. Also, be careful crewing your Heart of Kiran since people will Skysovereign you if put your Gideon or Chandra in range of it.
Why Play Esper Vehicles Over Jeskai?
Now that I've made the case for the power of Veteran Motorist, why would I play without it? Two reasons: first, the mana goes from being barely functional to good. You often never have true mana problems and you still run enough artifacts to take full advantage of Spire of Industry. You also have a much better chance of having your land come into play untapped on turn 4 for Gideon.
The second reason is that Anguished Unmaking is The Truth. Qi Wentao may have settled for Stasis Snare and Cast Out, but Anguished Unmaking does it all. I haven't had many issues casting Disintegration off 12 sources in my 4c Vehicles and the same goes here for Unmaking. Here's my current build.
As I said earlier, I'm starting to cool on the number of Spell Queller I run. Dropping to 3 will be wrong in some metagames, and in others it'll be correct. Casting Metallic Rebuke for only 2 mana makes a big difference on the draw. The sideboard is debatable—I'm still a fan of the Fumigate plan, but as decks adapt, I may move on to spot removal and card draw. Painful Truths is a strong card for post-board creature mirrors and adding a second may be on the table.
Right now, I like both these decks in the metagame, though if normal creature decks see a resurgence then it could be time to go back to the original Mardu. In the meantime, we have another fresh B&R announcement coming up that may make it a non-factor...