Coming into the wild west of Kaladesh Standard, a lot of assumptions were being made about vehicles and the role they might play in constructed. Something as new and different as vehicles can be hard to assess, and the most often made comparison seemed to be equipment: an artifact that hangs out and can essentially ‘buff’ any creature that comes down on your side. Well, if you’re like me and you were glued to the SCG coverage of the Indianapolis Open this weekend, I think we might have learned a couple of things.
- Kaladesh is sweeeeeeeeeeet.
- Smuggler’s Copter IS BUSTED
While I’m writing this, at the beginning of round 13 on day 2, the biggest standout deck to me so far seems to be Team Cardhorder’s R/W Vehicles deck. After 12 rounds, Team Cardhorder has a number of players making deep runs and looking to secure top 8 slots, all of them playing this new style of aggro. Here is Kent Ketter’s deck tech on SCG’s coverage. If you just want the decklist, look below:
3 Selfless Spirit
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Veteran Motorist
4 Depala, Pilot Exemplar
2 Pia Nalaar
Equipment has historically not been the biggest player in standard. Pushed equipment like the swords cycle, Batterskull, and Umezawa’s Jitte have obviously made their mark, but in recent years there has been nary a sword or shield strapped to our grizzly bears or mana dorks. Vehicles are definitely not equipment. There are no massive tempo gains to be made here. The advantage of using removal on your opponent’s creature in response to it being equipped is just not present with vehicles. Sure you can use a removal spell on a vehicle after they have crewed it, and you did get the benefit of your opponent’s creature being tapped from crewing a newly crashed ship. But tapping a fresh and notably summoning sick creature is not the same drawback as spending mana to equip. Unless they needed to be blocking with that tapped creature, we really didn’t gain much more than a straight 1 for 1 from shooting down the vehicle.
Vehicles also offer the benefit of simply choosing not to crew if our opponent is holding up mana to represent instant-speed removal. Multiple times throughout the weekend I saw players simply choose not to crew their Smuggler’s Copters in the face of Grasp of Darkness mana. Sure, they can use their removal on whatever creature we played to crew instead, but how beneficial is that really if it’s just a lowly Thraben Inspector? Vehicles are absolutely not equipment! We get undercosted threats immune to sorcery-speed removal that essentially lets us turn summoning sick creatures into hasty threats. Bring on the racetracks, let’s go driving.
What if we don’t draw fresh new creatures to hop in our ride? Tapping creatures that can attack is a missed opportunity for damage! How do we mitigate this? Cardhorder is avoiding this on multiple fronts. Firstly, by starting the curve low to the ground, we can simply crew with our early drops as they become obsolete as the game goes on. Tapping a 3/2 or 2/2 seems irrelevant if we were not going to be attacking into our opponents 3/5’s and 4/5’s. Early beatdown quickly transitions into bigger beatdown as we start crewing with irrelevant creatures. Secondly, they focused on creatures that offer a tangible benefit for simply being present on the battlefield. Thraben Inspector, Selfless Spirit, Veteran Motorist, Depala, Pilot Exemplar and Pia Nalaar all offer advantages for simply entering the battlefield.
None of these cheap early threats need to necessarily attack to accrue value; thus making them optimal pilots for our vehicles. There is some concern about getting vehicle flooded however, since the sturdy threats do need real creatures to drive and they are not suitable for crewing each other. Copter’s looting, Depala’s activated ability, and card advantage from clues from Thraben Inspector ideally keep the creatures flowing, ready and willing to race towards victory. Aggressive decks have historically been weak to mass removal sweepers, but vehicles create a unique new angle to the deck, allowing it to advance the board while not opening itself up to aggro’s traditional weaknesses. I can’t help but believe Wizards of the Coast is beaming while their new mechanic takes center stage.
Smuggler’s Copter seems like the glue that helps hold this new archetype together and I’m fully expecting this to be the premiere 2 drop threat of the format. It really does everything. Cheap enough to come down early, loots to smooth draws helping us hit land drops or mitigate flood, dodges sorcery speed removal, and is an overpowered (did I mention under-costed?) evasive threat. And its colorless so literally any deck can cast it. Pick up your Copters pronto, because I have a feeling we’ll be battling the next few months in the sky. I’m excited to see how this top 8 shapes up and if this powerful new aggressive archetype can continue to show off one of Kaladesh’s exciting new mechanics. After my adamant stance on going full Spike last week, I’m definitely interested in turning some Thraben Inspectors and Depala, Pilot Exemplars sideways (and I don’t mean attacking with them).
Even after all of my hard-talk about being competitive, I’m still prone to falling in love with my own pet darlings. Temurge has been performing impressively so far for me in testing, and I am growing a bit of an attachment to it. I’m trying to remain objective about it though, and if the archetype puts up zero results this weekend, I’ll be tabling it for the time being while I head off to the racetrack. I’m trying guys! I never said it was going to be easy!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention our reigning world champion Brian Braun-Duin and what he and the Roanoke players brought to the table in Indianapolis. Brian Braun-Duin (BBD), Tom Ross, Todd Anderson, and Brad Nelson all seemed to have all brought a very similarly built G/W Aggro deck, and not surprisingly it also packs a mean 4 Smuggler’s Copters. Their build is a progression of the G/W Tokens deck of last season, with an emphasis on an ability to pivot between being the beatdown and playing a long game backed up with post board sweepers and planeswalkers. Classic Brad Nelson deck building at its finest. Ever since his R/W Aggro deck finished strong at PT Khans of Tarkir, he’s made several notable finishes backed up by decks that start aggressive game 1, and board into big controlling decks game 2/3. We saw this with his Mardu builds, and we saw it recently with his SCG Invitational top 8 with Bant Humans. Unfortunately, a decklist hasn’t been made public yet, but I look forward to seeing it when it is.
Regardless of what comes out on top this weekend, I think it’s pretty clear we’ll be seeing a healthy number of Smuggler’s Copters in the top 8! I’ll be sleeving the winner this week for testing and tell you all about it next Monday!
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