Standard: Start Your Engines…

Chances are, you’ve been enjoying the new Standard format. Dominaria has brought Standard players and deck builders a plethora of interesting new tools to work with and the format has been reinventing itself almost daily.

In the few weeks since Dominaria became legal for Constructed tournament play, we’ve already seen: The Scarab God dethroned, the emergence of U/W Control, and the innovation of G/W Good Stuff decks. Today, I’d like to talk through the latest and greatest trend, which is the rise of Vehicles to the top tier of the metagame.

Vehicle Aggro has been a mainstay in the format for over a year. As you may well remember, there was a point in time where the Standard format devolved into Copycat Energy Control vs. Hateful Mardu Vehicles lists. Well, here we are again, and to quote The Captain and Tennille, “Mardu that to me one more time—once is never enough…”

Last weekend, R/B Vehicles absolutely slaughtered the Top 8 of Grand Prix Birmingham:

  • 6 R/B Vehicles
  • 1 U/W Control
  • 1 G/B Constrictor

R/B Vehicles also flew home with the trophy. The new Vehicles lists are different, opting for a less complicated mana base and fewer colored spells, but the general idea remains intact.

So, what is this deck and why is it so great?

What Is R/B Vehicles?

Looking at the lists from Grand Prix Birmingham, there isn’t a ton of deviation between the best performing R/B Vehicles lists.

R/B Vehicles

Simon Nielsen, 1st place at Grand Prix Birmingham on 5/12/2018

The first thing about this deck that stands out to me is that it looks more like a mono-red deck than what I think of when somebody says Vehicles. Eleven Mountains confirms what feels obvious.

In particular, the list looks like a Hazoret Red deck (sans Hazoret) that has “gone big” in a post-sideboard game. We see lots of familiar Big Red threats:

The white Vehicle synergy cogs are notably absent from these newly emergent lists:

The R/B Vehicles list has threats up and down the curve. I’ve noticed that Dominaria has a lot of powerful cards, but many of the best spells have higher converted mana costs. Many of the new mythic haymakers are in the 4+ CMC camp, and as many players raise their curve to make room for 5s and 6s, the Vehicles decks have done the opposite and rolled back their mana costs to become faster and more efficient.

It makes a lot of sense that if everyone else is going bigger, there is ground to gain by going faster, which is exactly what we saw happen in Birmingham last weekend!

Why and How This Deck Exists

Dominaria wasn’t just friendly to Azorius and Selesnya mages. There are some serious cards making a tremendous impact in the resurgence of the red deck:

Goblin Chainwhirler is an absolute house. The only real drawback is that it has to be played in a deck that can consistently produce RRR. So, red decks… red decks are happy to have this bonkers Goblin.

The deck, like so many other decks, is simply jamming Karn. Karn is just a ridiculous Magic card. It reminds me of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar for a couple of important reasons.

First, the card is undercosted by a noticeable amount of mana. It has multiple modes that affect the board and game when it hits the table. Most importantly, the card (like Gideon) is extremely difficult to defeat when you are behind because it allows the opponent to run downhill.

Karn also simply has a lot of loyalty, which means that attacking it to death requires a lot of resources and typically multiple attack steps.

The red deck is made better by taking on an artifacts-matter sub-theme, as are G/B decks, U/W decks, G/W decks, etc.

It also happens to be true that pairing aggressive red decks with artifacts is a synergistic coupling.

These are already great cards in an aggressive deck and the fact that they make Karn better is straight gravy.

Variations

It also struck me how the six lists from the GP Top 8 had a lot of variation without really having a lot of variation.

Overall, the lists were playing mostly the same cards but in varying quantities. The reason for this is simple: There is an embarassment of riches when it comes to cards for this strategy. There are more solid cards that could go into a deck like this than there are available slots! Which is why when you compare deck lists, most are selectively playing two and three copies of various cards across the board rather than all four-ofs.

One of the greatest places of tension in these lists is the removal suite:

Depending on the matchup, these cards all vary from borderline useless to completely absurd. Maxing out on Abrade is smart, especially with all the Heart of Kiran flying around. At the same time, I understand that being able to Disintegrate a 5/5 lifelink Angel is savage.

Yet, we also know that a deck like R/B exploits opposing decks that go too big by simply being more efficient, which gives a well-timed Magma Spray a ton of value. Most of the lists are playing a mish-mash of these spells to be more flexible.

It is also worth noting that the red decks may have been the best tuned decks for beating other red decks! The pilots who were busy tuning their lists were actually well prepared to play the mirror in the sense that while having a cheap curve, they didn’t play many threats that actually died to Goblin Chainwhirler other than Pia.

Is Bomat Courier’s day in the sun over? Nah, check out the third-place list:

R/B Vehicles

Matt Brown, 3rd place at Grand Prix Birmingham on 5/12/2018

Matt’s list is functionally similar to the winning list but has a little bit more “go under” at work. He’s got the Bomat Courier and cuts the Magma Sprays from the main deck.

These lists still have play to them in how they are constructed.

The other scary, but important, thing to remember about these decks is that they use their efficiency and aggressiveness to “steal” game 1 and then board into a much more grindy deck. This isn’t anything new, but it’s always a good reminder to keep the game in front of you.

As opposing decks board out clunky spells for cheap interaction and creatures, the Red Vehicles deck just sideboards to go over the top. So, be careful not to go “too small” after sideboard, as there are few things more frustrating than a Red Aggro deck outpunching a midrange deck!

Whatever you decide to play, the story of the week will be how the metagame adapts to these new R/B Vehicles lists. It helps to think of them as Red Deck Wins with a Vehicle package and Karn to grind through the midgame.

I would advise having a good plan for fighting these decks and practicing the matchup. I feel like in order for these Vehicles decks to have dominated Birmingham so badly, the field likely wasn’t ready… let’s not make the same mistake twice!

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