R/W Vehicles (or Dwarves, as I prefer to call it), was an early contender for the best deck in Standard. But over the past month, it’s largely fallen out of favor while B/G Delirium and U/W Tempo have come to dominate the format. Even when you do see Toolcraft Exemplars and Vehicles, it’s usually in the form of the super-aggressive Mardu decks. I’m here to make a case for why the classic version of R/W can still be successful in today’s Standard format.
Eric Froehlich did a nice job covering the card choices in R/W , so I’ll do my best to pick up where he left off.
Cruiser is a totally fine card, and even does a nice job rounding out the numbers for Toolcraft Exemplar and Depala, Pilot Exemplar. I have nothing against playing with a small number of Fleetwheel Cruisers. But I’m high on Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and the two cards compete for their spot on the mana curve.
Where Fleetwheel Cruiser can be 1-for-1’d, Gideon can give fits to an opponent with a removal-heavy hand. Where Fleetwheel Cruiser can be brickwalled by Ishkanah, Grafwidow, Gideon offers a plan for winning the game on a stalled board. Finally, the Gideon emblem is a way to combat Liliana, the Last Hope and Weaver of Lightning, two of the most annoying cards to play against.
That leads into the choice to play Always Watching. With Liliana being a popular card in Standard, it’s valuable to get your creatures above 1 toughness as quickly as possible. Past that, Always Watching is one of the few cards that can help you break serve in an aggro mirror if your opponent is on the play with a fast hand.
The combination of Always Watching and planeswalkers gives my build of R/W Dwarves a fantastic ability to dominate a board stall. This, along with smoother mana and an increased ability to play defense, are the advantages of classic R/W over Mardu.
Deck Difficulty: Average.
Among the popular Standard decks, R/W Dwarves is neither the easiest nor the most difficult deck to pilot. That said, Standard in general is quite challenging right now. Games quickly slide into messy board states and complicated combat steps. Virtually all of the cards have multiple abilities, and they all combine in different and important ways. It can be a lot to keep track of.
R/W is both powerful and fast. So one great thing is that you do get plenty of easy wins when you have a strong hand on the play. But the games that stall out, or the ones where you actually have to block, can be challenging and—in my opinion—quite fun.
The main thing stopping R/W from dominating Standard is its unfavorable matchup against B/G Delirium. Liliana, the Last Hope remains a big threat despite Always Watching and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar doing a lot of work to mitigate the damage. The even bigger problem is Ishkanah, Grafwidow, which buys them the time they need to stabilize the board in a close game.
But when I say that the matchup is unfavorable, I mean that you’re a small underdog. I don’t despair when my opponent plays a turn-1 Hissing Quagmire. The raw power level of R/W will make you a favorite to beat any deck in the format when you have a good hand on the play. When you can’t win the easy way, your planeswalkers give you a fighting chance of winning in the middle or late game.
I’ve already talked a lot about the power level of R/W, and its ability to score easy wins off aggressive nut-draws. But even more impressive is its consistency. A two-color mana base with 24 lands including 8 duals is simply as good as you can ask for. Veteran Motorist and Smuggler’s Copter give you a ton of control over the top of your library, ensuring that you come out smoothly in virtually every game. Those cards, along with Needle Spires, Depala, and planeswalkers help mitigate mana flood and ensure that you don’t run out of gas, even in very long games.
Good matchups for R/W Dwarves include control decks (because of planeswalkers and other noncreature threats), smaller creature decks and R/G Energy decks (because of tons of cheap removal out of the sideboard), and anybody who durdles around for too long, such as Metalwork Colossus decks or rogue decks (because of your fast, reliable clock). Most importantly, U/W Tempo is a very good matchup for R/W. I believe that R/W is more favored over U/W than B/G is over R/W. In other words, if your expected field is half B/G and half U/W, then R/W should be an above-average deck choice.
Matchups and Sideboarding
Don’t feel trapped by my exact sideboarding recommendations. One of the strengths of R/W is being able to customize both your threats and your removal spells to fit the matchup after sideboarding. Pay attention to small variations in your opponents’ deck lists. Do they have Kalitas or Mindwrack Demon? Both? Or neither? This will subtly change the amount and the type of removal you’ll want after sideboarding. You don’t want Fragmentize if all they have is Smuggler’s Copter, but if you believe they have Stasis Snare also, it becomes a great card. Those are just two of an endless number of possible examples.
This is slightly unfavorable, and is the worst matchup among Standard’s popular decks. But that’s only true of the controlling versions of B/G. The more creatures they have, the better the matchup will become for R/W.
Plan A is to run them over with a fast draw, or to hope they stumble. Something as simple as one of their lands coming into play tapped on the wrong turn, or achieving delirium a turn late can be all the window you need to change a loss into a win.
Plan B is to win a board stall with planeswalkers. Chandra, Torch of Defiance is my favorite sideboard card for the matchup because it doubles as a great threat in a board stall, and an extra answer to Grim Flayer or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. If you can stick a planeswalker, it means that sitting behind a wall of Spider tokens will no longer be a winning proposition for them. The tricky part is that if you wait around indefinitely, they’ll eventually find their Emrakul and beat you. You have to press your advantage in the midgame in order for plan B to work.
Other possible cuts are Archangel Avacyn, or Toolcraft Exemplar when you’re on the draw.
Sideboarding allows you to improve your staying power, increase your number of answers to Kalitas, and reduce your vulnerability to Liliana.
U/W Tempo is a favorable matchup, but still very dependent on the die roll. Don’t underestimate them, as you can easily lose to their good draws when they go first.
The key is minimizing the value they can generate from Spell Queller and Archangel Avacyn. Sometimes it’s fine to jam something like a Gideon into open Spell Queller mana, because it means that a well-placed removal spell later in the game will make them crumble like a house of cards.
Both players will have more removal after sideboarding, so everything becomes a bit more uncertain. They can’t lean as heavily on Spell Queller, and neither player can count on their Stasis Snares and Smuggler’s Copters surviving. Focus on being prepared for Archangel Avacyn by the time your opponent hits his or her fifth land drop.
R/W or Mardu Vehicles
The mirror match is particularly interesting because the dynamics are wildly different before and after sideboarding. Strangely enough, planeswalkers are poor in game one, but excellent after sideboarding.
Game 1 is largely a race since neither player will have enough removal to shut the opponent down. But Always Watching can give you an advantage when both players have strong draws.
After sideboarding, both players will have a ton of removal, so the game is unlikely to be decided by an early rush. Value is key.
You could practically bring in your whole sideboard if you wanted to. If you follow this plan, you’ll be one or two steps ahead of the players who haven’t practiced or thought enough about the sideboard games. If your opponent thinks the matchup is still a race, like game 1 largely was, you’ll dismantle him with all of your cheap removal. If your opponent thinks she’ll get you with anti-weenie measures like Weaver of Lightning, you’ll go over the top with planeswalkers.
A fast clock is all you need to have a fine matchup against Aetherworks Marvel decks since they have inherent inconsistencies, and you won’t give them time to draw out of their awkward hands.
These decks can range from pure combo decks to midrange decks that simply play the Marvel as one extra angle of attack. Try not to get punked out by creatures like Kalitas or Ishkanah off the sideboard.
Other flexible slots are Archangel Avacyn, Stasis Snare, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
Finally the Reckless Bushwhackers get to pull some weight. They aren’t good against the top decks in Standard, but there are a lot of miscellaneous strategies out there where all you want to do is speed up your goldfish and be able to cut some of your dead removal spells.
R/W Dwarves is a forgotten deck in Standard. It’s struggled a little bit lately due to the dominance of B/G Delirium. But if you use the deckbuilding and gameplay advice in this article, you can bring that matchup reasonable close to 50/50. Combine that with a high raw power level and good matchups against the rest of the field, and I believe that R/W can continue to put up great results.