A new age of Standard stands before us, and I know you’re excited to sling some new spells, but with most pros keeping their upcoming Pro Tour lists close to the chest, what’s a simple spikey, netdeck-loving, try hard suppose to play week 1? WHO DO WE COPY?
The obvious answer is Felidar Guardian. We copy that guy.
Week 1 formats often reward proactive, straightforward beatdown decks. Players are excited to brew and try out new cards, and their lists are often underdeveloped and un-tuned. Proactive aggro decks bring the beats and close out games while opponents spin their wheels and draw inopportune cards.
I know this is a commonly held concept, and I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but it never hurts to reiterate. So what do I advocate for week 1 while I wait on the better players and teams to start sharing their testing and preparation? A certain hammer wielding dwarf and maybe even a few… vehicles? I know you can’t wait to Ctrl+F “vehicles” to see how many times I type that majestic motorized word in this article, and I assure you, I will not disappoint.
That’s right, your resident Mardu enthusiast still hasn’t given up hope. He’s often found wallowing in bed clinging desperately to his playset of Toolcraft Exemplar while he weeps about the untimely demise of his favorite looter scooter. Despite all of that, he’s still trying his best to attack for 3 on turn 2.
Now you may think Mardu is dead with the banning of Smuggler’s Copter, and I’m inclined to agree. What I’m advocating for week 1 is not a Lee Shi Tian-inspired Mardu Vehicles approach, but rather a Kaladesh week 1 SCG Open dominating R/W Vehicles approach. As I mentioned in my critically lauded article from last week covering the bannings, if Toolcraft Exemplar is to remain a role player in Standard, he’s going to have to mix it up a bit. Mardu vehicles with its 3.5 color mana base often traded consistency for raw power, and Smuggler’s Copter’s ability to smooth your draw was often an important key in overcoming some of that inconsistency. Let’s take a look at Reid Duke’s Classic-winning R/W list and see how we can adapt it to Aether Revolt.
When adapting Reid’s list to the new expected Aether Revolt metagame, we have to keep 2 things in mind; what are the level zero decks that we should be expecting to play against, and how do we deal with the Smuggler’s Copter ban?
Copycat (what I’ll be referring to the Saheeli-Felidar combo as hence forth) is most likely the biggest target week zero, but no one seems completely sure on how exactly to build it. While we might not know exactly what kind of shell it will slot into, we can adhere to some basic underlying principals of how to combat it. Don’t give them time to cast cantrips or dig spells. Don’t be so slow that they can play a turn 3 Saheeli Rai with no threat of it immediately dying. Don’t play zero interactive spells that impact the combo itself. Put pressure on them, start your aggression early, and be able to interact with a 1/4 or with Saheeli Rai at instant speed.
The heart of the switch from Mardu to straight R/W lies within Kiran. Heart of Kiran is the best replacement for Smuggler’s Copter, and if our deck is built correctly, could actually be a slight upgrade over Copter. Attacking for 4 is in fact more than 3 after all. And attacking for 5 is even more! (MATH!) Depala, Pilot Exemplar is a perfect fit for crewing and buffing Heart of Kiran and looking for a shell that maximizes her is a good start for any new Vehicles list. Heart puts your opponent under a significant clock while turning on our turn 1 Toolcraft Exemplar plus the evasive damage helps threaten any opposing planeswalker (read: Saheeli Rai). Depala, Pilot Exemplar, while powerful, was never at her best in Mardu. Inventor’s Apprentice and Scrapheap Scrounger naturally played towards a shorter, more aggressive plan, while Depala slows things down a bit and gives you reach and card draw.
Pia Nalaar, while excellent, probably unfortunately needs to be cut for Thalia, Heretic Cathar. Thalia crews the ever-important Heart of Kiran while also helping disrupt the aforementioned Copycat combo. Veteran Motorist is an obvious keep since it works great with both Heart and Depala.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar works perfectly with Heart of Kiran, letting you attack with all your creatures while still crewing the Legendary airship, and I would most likely advocate for a full 4 Gideons, perhaps cutting the singleton Archangel Avacyn for the 4th. The removal of Avacyn makes sense when we take into account the likely omission of Selfless Spirit in our list. The flying 2/1 for 2 is just not up to snuff in this build, as the emphasis on 3 power for crewing Heart, artifacts for Toolcraft Exemplar, and dwarf synergy with Depala, Pilot Exemplar makes for 3 strikes for the sacrificial apparition. Removing Selfless Spirit from the list leaves a gap in the 2-drop slot and, to be honest, the alternatives are all fairly wanting. We could play an additional Thalia, Heretic Cathar or perhaps more Harnessed Lightning, but there is a certain innocuous new rare I’m intrigued by.
Metallic Mimic is definitely worth exploring as a new 2 drop, as it does check off quite a few boxes. It’s an artifact to turn on Toolcraft Exemplar, and by naming Dwarf we can become even more of a tribal aggro deck. It doesn’t have the requisite 3 power for crewing Heart, but with 1 Depala, Pilot Exemplar or Always Watching, the shapeshifter can be driving in no time. That takes me to Reid’s inclusion of 2 Always Watching, a card that is inherently at odds with creatures crewing. It’s hard to get the benefit of vigilance when you’re tapping your creature to crew, but the buff does turn any creature into a potential pilot for Heart. I like Reid’s rationale for including it in the first place, and I’d be interested in keeping his 2 copies for week 1. Always Watching is a house in any racing mirror, and if opponents are also looking to get aggressive week 1, Always Watching could be a huge boon. I could understand cutting 1 copy for the 4th Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and keeping the Archangel Avacyn if that’s something you wanted to try.
I like Reid’s limited, yet potent, removal and I would also stick with the 2 Harnessed Lightning and 3 Stasis Snare mainboard. We don’t want to flood out on removal, but it’s vital we have at least some interaction.
Last but not least, we get the most powerful creature in standard: Thraben Inspector. His ability to crew Smuggler’s Copter was a huge part of this clue-finding little guy’s power, and with its banning, Thraben Inspector’s stock certainly goes down. However, providing a cheap artifact to turn on Toolcraft Exemplar is important, as is starting our curve early, so for now I’m inclined to keep the Inspector.
It’s hard to build a sideboard for any new metagame, but we can extrapolate a loose idea of what kind of cards we’d want against specific styles of match up, even if we don’t know what we’ll be specifically facing. Generally, I hate building a sideboard like its some sort of checklist we need to mark off. 3 cards for this matchup, 4 cards for this, 2 for that, etc. etc. I prefer to build a sideboard in a way that facilitates a specific game plan or goal and crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s just doesn’t enable that. For week 1 though, we’ll allow a little flexibility and just try and stay open to what we expect to play against.
Its easy to surmise that we’d want a few more pieces of interaction for any Copycat match up, as well as something for an Aetherworks Marvel deck, any kind of aggro deck, and also any control-ish decks like B/G Delirium, and a hard blue-based control deck.
Galvanic Bombardment was a staple 4-of in R/W Vehicles (as well as Mardu) for any matchup where mana efficiently matters. You’d want cheap answers to go along with your cheap threats for the mirror match so you could position yourself to cast threats while answering opponents, preferably all in one mana efficient turn. The reprinting of Shock should serve this role, but also provide the option to go to the dome when necessary. Shock disrupts the Copycat combo, so its inclusions provides more game against any Copycat style deck while also having great game in any aggro mirror match.
Fragmentize was a great mana efficient answer to opposing Smuggler’s Copter or any other important artifact, and its continued inclusion makes sense. Decommission might encroach a bit on Fragmentize’s space however, as instant speed ain’t nothing to shake a stick at. For now, I’d err on the side of mana efficiency over instant speed personally though.
An additional Thalia, Heretic Cathar seems like a great option to bring in against Copycat while also having great game against any slower, grindy deck that leans on Ishkanah, Grafwidow like B/G Delirum. Reid played 2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance in his board for any attrition-based matchup where you can expect your dwarves and vehicles to be lacking in effectiveness. Chandra is a non-creature threat that generates card advantage and I would also look to keep a few in my board week 1. She also does a great Flametongue Kavu impression in the mirror, advancing your board while answering a threat.
1 Skywhaler’s Shot and the 4th Stasis Snare rounded out Reid’s removal post-board, and week 1 I like the option of boarding into some heavier removal in case our few Harnessed Lightning are outclassed against something like the G/B Aggro match up, if that still exists. Blessed Alliance is a card I’ve had limited experience with in constructed and I’m not sure if its inclusion is warranted. Escalate is a versatile mechanic though, and I can its application in a variety of match ups.
Reckless Bushwhacker helps the deck close out games more quickly while potentially recuperating from a sweeper. If Yahenni’s Expertise is on your radar, I like keeping this little hastey goblin in the sideboard.
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is a haymaker for any mirror or midrange slug fest. The big ship shoots baby spiders and attacks with impunity, and does a similar Flametongue Kavu impression. I was always a huge fan of boarding out 2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the Mardu mirror for 1 Chandra and 1 Flagship, and I imagine the principles behind that logic still stand. Gideon was often hard to protect in the mirror with Thalia making blocking difficult or evasive vehicles flying around, so he was nothing but 2/2 token that gained you 4. Chandra and Skysovereign, however, were trumps that often removed a threat while playing to the board and I’d definitely be interested in registering at least one of the big boat week 1.
If I find a Standard event to sling in this weekend this is what I’ll be registering based on updating and adapting Reid’s list.
R/W Vehicles by Austin Mansell
2 Reckless Bushwhacker
1 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
1 Skywhaler’s Shot
1 Stasis Snare
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 (Flex spot for whatever you think you need to hedge the most against. This could easily be another removal spell for Copycat or G/B Delirium aggro, it could be another piece of artifact removal for Aetherworks Marvel, Metalwork Colossus, or Panharmonicon, or it could be another sticky threat for B/G Delirium control or any blue-based control deck.)
Hopefully I offered some helpful guidelines for any other vehicle enthusiasts out there and sufficiently padded my article with the word, ‘vehicle’. Good luck this weekend, and long may the vehicles reign!
There are a lot of Copycat lists running around the internet, but what if Aetherworks Marvel is the best shell for the combo? Read this article by Jonah Gaynor for a deck that could take over the format.
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