The first major tournament featuring brand new Kaladesh cards—and no Collected Company—is in the books. I know how much the end of a Standard format can drain your enthusiasm. The decks that perform well tend to be the decks we’ve all seen a million times. Nobody is interested in trying new strategies or investing in cards that are about to rotate. Luckily, Kaladesh brought a ton of playable new toys!
Kaladesh is an artifact set, and the biggest news to come out of PAX was of the new Vehicles. This brand new card type requires other creatures to operate them, meaning they can’t quite go into every deck and so they look a little like equipment. They also offer some incredible advantages over equipment.
In the past, a deck full of equipment and an empty board would have sit around and wait for a creature to attach them to. You would then pass the turn and have to wait until the creature could attack before the equipment was active. That’s not the case with Vehicles. As soon as you add your creatures to the battlefield, even though they can’t attack, they can crew up a Vehicle and start getting in there.
This completely changes how the game of Magic is played.
The best Vehicle to come out of Kaladesh, and what many have pegged as the best card in the entire set, is Smuggler’s Copter. For just 2 mana, you’ve got a 3/3 flying creature that allows you to loot whenever it attacks or blocks. It requires you to have another creature in play, but it will accept just about any driver. Crew 1 means that any creature you resolve, or any token you produce, will be enough to fly the Copter. Once you have the Copter active, you can run away with the game.
This card is so many things rolled into one. In many ways, this is the Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy of the new Standard. Being able to filter your hand is amazing, and will give you the opportunity to cast powerful spells on curve with greater consistency. In other ways, the Copter is a Mantis Rider. It’s extremely hard to block and deals damage in massive chunks. It’s incredible how fast 3 points of flying damage can close out a game. Being able to turn any of your small creatures into 3/3 flying looters is completely overpowered.
It should come as no surprise that people recognized that Smuggler’s Copter is excellent. What should be somewhat surprising is that in the Top 8 of the very first Standard Open in Indianapolis, the Top 8 featured the full 32 copies of the Copter. This is a card you need to be prepared to play against. If your removal of choice is going to be cards like Incendiary Flow, Ruinous Path, or Fumigate, be aware that Smuggler’s Copter will be a very big problem. Have an answer.
So what’s the best way to utilize the Smuggler’s Copter?
A 3-power creature for a single mana is a great start. Toolcraft Exemplar is the new Wild Nacatl, but actually asks much less of you. You already want to be playing Copter in all of your aggressive decks, so is it really too much to ask to play a few more artifacts? Needing to have an artifact in play to get to 3 power is so much easier than having green mana plus both a Mountain and a Plains.
Now, there are downsides. If you’re not aggressive, even if you have an artifact, the Exemplar isn’t going to block well. This is an attack trigger, so it will only get the bonus at the beginning of your combat. The fact that the card has even more upside is kind of amazing, as having some additional artifacts floating around means that your Exemplar is going to be a real pain to block. A 3/2 first strike for 1 is no joke, and there really aren’t great ways to block this thing in the early stages of a game.
Finding more spells that interact favorably with your new Kaladesh tools like Smuggler’s Copter and Toolcraft Exemplar is the next piece of the puzzle. Is there anything that could possibly fit that bill better than Thraben Inspector? It has 1 power, so it can crew up a Copter. It only costs a single mana, so you can get in for a point while your Copter is summoning sick and then get ready to go looting to continue curving out on turn 3. And it also provides a Clue, which happens to be an artifact, which will turn on your Exemplar. The pieces to an aggressive deck are all there, so you just need to put them together.
You like Vehicles? You like aggressive creatures? You like insane value? Veteran Motorist sounds perfect for you!
A 3-power creature for 2 mana is quite nice to fit the curve. The fact that this pumps your Vehicles up is a pretty nice bonus. When you play a turn-2 Copter and their play is Liliana, tick it up—despite being on the draw—your Motorist can come down, crew up the Thopter, and eat the Liliana. That’s really sick.
The fact that this aggressive creature, a creature that you would consider playing just for being a 3-power Dwarf that pumps your Vehicles, also scrys when it enters the battlefield is just silly. Not only does it scry, but it has scry 2. I don’t really know why this happened, but it did. This is very similar to just fully drawing a card as a scry 2 has incredible benefits both early and late. The fact that you can hit land drops or find spells when you need to makes this a valuable creature.
So you have a couple really aggressive Dwarves and a completely overpowered Vehicle. Sounds like a Dwarf and Vehicle lord would be incredibly useful for this deck we’re putting together. Depala, Pilot Exemplar does everything. A 3/3 for 3 is a little below the curve, but that’s the worst aspect of this card, and isn’t even too far below par. All of your Dwarves get +1/+1, no questions asked. That means both your Motorists and your Toolcraft Exemplars are getting boosted up to 4 power. You also get a +1/+1 bonus for all of your Vehicles. Copters, I’m looking at you. This gives you even more ways to crew up a Copter on turn 3 and start swinging for 4, which happens to be just the right amount of damage to finish off a planeswalker like Liliana.
Somehow, we haven’t even gotten to the really busted part of Depala. This is the mana sink to end all mana sinks. Whenever Depala becomes tapped, you get to pay X mana, look at the top X cards, and you get every Dwarf and Vehicle into your hand.
Yes, all of them. Not “choose one.”
This would already be incredible in a deck where you were forced to swing in with your 3/3 to get the bonus, even though in many of these situations your Depala would be at risk of dying. Not the case in a deck with Vehicles. You may never have to attack with Depala and yet you can draw card after extra card. The fact that Depala pumps your team and crews your Vehicles for extra value makes it an awesome weapon in these decks.
Remember that whenever you have extra mana available, if you didn’t attack with all of your Vehicles, Depala can be activated on your opponent’s turn. You can crew a Vehicle during their end step and draw some extra cards.
There’s less to say about a creature like Selfless Spirit. It’s possible you can do better, but it’s solid. A 2-power flying creature with upside is nice, and the main function of the Spirit is to protect your team from sweepers like Kozilek’s Return. A 2-drop evasion creature is nice, but nothing to write home about.
The final creature is a bit more exciting. Pia Nalaar doesn’t add a ton of power for 3 mana, but 3 power spread among 2 bodies when 1 of them has evasion is a pretty nice bonus. The abilities for Pia are probably going to be underrated for some time. A mana sink that can potentially deal more damage by pumping up your Thopters or Vehicles is quite useful. Being able to sacrifice a Thopter or Vehicle to prevent a block can finish off a game.
This wouldn’t be much of a “Vehicles” deck if it only played Copters. This is especially true if every deck in Standard is running them. The next Vehicle doesn’t ask anyone for anything to go cruising. Fleetwheel Cruiser can come down and just start crunching. You probably don’t want to get flooded with too many 4-mana cards, especially those that won’t do anything after their first turn in play without help, but this thing is a race swinger. It can come down and take huge chunks out of the opponent’s life total, trample through blockers, absorb bonuses from a Motorist or Depala, and eat up just about any planeswalker in Standard. This thing does work.
When the boards get more cluttered, get everyone on board the ship. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is a beast. It comes down and kills a reasonably-sized creature or planeswalker. From there, it can start to take over. It does require you to have a reasonable board state, but Motorist, Depala, or Pia can take care of that. Once it’s active, this thing will resemble Inferno Titan. Killing a creature to help clear the way before connecting for 6 or more damage is a massive swing.
From there, you just need to make sure you can clear the way a little bit. This isn’t an energy deck, but Harnessed Lightning is still an excellent tool. Instant speed and up to 3 damage is perfect for the format. If you want to deal with a smaller, early threat, you can stockpile energy to deal with something else later. If they play a Tireless Tracker that you kill, then you can pick off Archangel Avacyn or Verdurous Gearhulk later.
In case creatures get too big, tokens too prevalent, or you just want to live the dream and take out multiple blockers, Declaration in Stone is still one of the most efficient removal spells we’ve seen. Fleetwheel Cruisers and Smuggler’s Copters aren’t giving your opponents too much time to crack those Clues, so they better have some answers!
Perhaps the biggest card to come out of Kaladesh for aggressive strategies will wind up being Inspiring Vantage. OK, yeah, it’s Smuggler’s Copter, and it’s not particularly close, but Vantage really does change mana bases by pushing you toward enemy colors. This is even clearer for decks that want to remain aggressive where having your lands enter the battlefield untapped in the early turns is critical.
Not that it’s new, but Needle Spires is a valuable weapon that can even crew up a Copter when needed. This is a very aggressive land and another reason why opponents need to be cautious when playing against you.
Here’s the list Chris VanMeter used to take down the first Standard Open in Indianapolis:
Chris VanMeter, 1st place at a Standard Open in Indianapolis
This is a nice, streamlined aggressive deck with real staying power. You can take over the early game with aggressive creatures, the Vehicles are there for that middle portion, and with Depala to help find more threats, Copter to loot, and Motorist to scry, this deck continues to stay in the game going long.
Looking at the sideboard, you can see that this deck is capable of completely shifting gears. This looks like a deck that can go in two directions once game 1 is complete.
On the one hand, when matchups call for it, you can shave removal spells and add more threats. There will be matchups where Harnessed Lightning isn’t getting the job done. When that happens, you’re going to want a more resilient threat in Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
You also have the big-boy removal spell. Skywhaler’s Shot really does resemble Murder with upside. Getting to scry is always nice, but this is killing so many of the format’s most important creatures. With cards like Toolcraft Exemplar in the format, the Shot can even kill 1-mana creatures. I’d strongly consider playing more copies going forward.
Fragmentize is a really important card out of the new set. There are so many Vehicles around to go with the powerful enchantments that already existed. With Dromoka’s Command rotating out of the format, cards like Stasis Snare and Quarantine Field should see significantly more play. Always Watching has always been a huge card. Fragmentize is an excellent answer. It’s exactly what you want to deal with opposing vehicles like Copter and Cruiser.
In matchups where the Shot isn’t useful, it’s likely that Galvanic Bombardment will be excellent. This ability to transform into more of a control deck is what puts R/W Vehicles over the top. By removing cards that are extra aggressive, such as Toolcraft Exemplar and Fleetwheel Cruiser, you can reposition yourself perfectly. With the additional instants, you have plenty of opportunities to trigger the final sideboard card.
Weaver of Lightning is going to be a big player in Standard going forward, so be aware. It’s a 1/4 reach creature, which is already good enough to warrant consideration. If you’re going to be playing a format where 3/2s for 1 and 3/3 flying looters for 2 are big, you’re going to want 1/4 reach creatures. The fact that Weaver can take over the midgame is an awesome addition. Much of your removal will only deal smaller increments of damage. A Skywhaler’s Shot can take down a medium creature, but you will need to team up Harnessed Lightning with the Weaver’s triggers to kill a lot of the Avacyns and Gearhulk-sized creatures in the format.
This is week 1 of Standard, and aggression is the name of the game. Smuggler’s Copter is the card to beat, but if you’re not beating them, there’s certainly no harm in joining them. As far as Copter mirrors are concerned, those who can crew the big ships and sideboard in 1-mana removal spells should have a pretty big edge. I love where R/W Vehicles is positioned!
What was your favorite deck from the first weekend of Kaladesh? Which cards are you most excited to get to play with? Sound off in the comments!