Ship It! Brewing With Ixalan’s Vehicles

Matt Higgs was pleasantly surprised to see Vehicles return so soon after Kaladesh block! Today he explores the possibilities of Ixalan’s ships, From Conqueror’s Galleon to Shadowed Caravel!

Kaladesh brought us the world of Vehicles, one where a contraption (no, not thoseContraptions) can be driven by whatever wild and crazy creature we can think up, providing an aggressive or defensive creature in a pinch hidden from sorcery-speed removal.

Some of them were developmental mistakes. Eventually, though, with enough banning power being diverted to other archetypes, Vehicles have settled into a place similar to Equipment: a niche type of card that is occasionally directly referenced and can provide a benefit either to the creature it interacts with, or vice versa.

In a way, actually, Vehicles seem perfectly aligned, both thematically and mechanically, with Kaladesh and Aether Revolt; I didn’t expect to see them again so soon.

Thankfully, though, Ixalan delivers! Five new Vehicles have appeared in the newest set in Magic, all in the form of a Western European ship design akin to the Pirates and Vampires that have emerged along the coasts of Ixalan. Much like Sky Skiff and Aradara Express from Kaladesh, some are developed simply for Limited and for their flavor.

These two ships are not quite powerful enough to see Constructed play, but they feel right on flavor. Sleek Schooner feels like a schooner; double-masted for speed and sporting a small, singular deck manned by a small crew, this little schooner still packs a punch thanks to its maneuverability and flexibility.

Dusk Legion Dreadnought, on the other hand, is slow, bulky, but prepared from every angle. Although dreadnoughts as a class of ships weren’t actually around until the age of metal-hulled ships at the beginning of the last century, the name itself fits correctly. Presumably, instead of Pirates aboard this vessel, an approaching ship would see an army of Vampires, ever vigilant and prepared from every side. This ominous invasion would make even the most devout locals nervous. Note that the Sleek Schooner hits just as hard as the Dreadnought, but the Schooner can only do it once. In battle, two Sleek Schooners can defeat a Dusk Knight Dreadnought, presumably because they could outflank it, but not without one of them sinking to the briny depths.

There are, however, three ships that show some potential for Constructed play, either casually or competitively.

Caravels were exploration vessels. Built for their maneuverability, they were manned not really by Pirates or scallywags, but intrepid explorers and cartographers, looking to make a map of the cliffs, rivers, and shores they encountered. Ixalan hit the nail on the head with this one; a more dedicated crew is needed to traverse the coastline, but it also is weaker on offense and defense. Exploration improves the crew’s ability to maneuver; the same crew, with sufficient experience, can pilot the ship to victory in battle.

Building a Shadowed Caravel deck is fairly straightforward: find the best cards with Explore and slap ’em together in a deck.

The nice thing about cards with Explore is that they’re almost universally playable just based on the Explore trigger alone. Explore is a difficult ability for me to evaluate; most of the time, you’d rather draw a land and thin your deck, but sometimes, putting pressure on your opponent with a larger creature is better (but usually not, as drawing cards is good).

Thus, building a good Explore deck should combine this inherent good quality in these creatures and some effective removal. Nothing fancy, but crashing with a suddenly large creature is pretty exciting too.

Explore creatures worth their salt are two mana or less, which makes them all the stronger. Getting their enters-the-battlefield trigger again and again is how you can make the most of the deck. Moreover, Explore lets you put a card you reveal into your graveyard, which helps Claim // Fame whether it’s what you discard or it’s already in your hand.

Let’s get to it!

Jund always provides such a nice combination for fixing, removal, and pressure.

Winding Constrictor, in its never-ending quest to work well with everything, not only helps Explore triggers that do not reveal lands, it also pumps Shadowed Caravel twice, plus you can target it with Claim // Fame. What can’t this little Snake do?

Ruin Raider works very well in a deck that has low drops and a decent land count. Unlike most aftermath cards, which would hit like a truck were you to draw them off Ruin Raider, Claim // Fame and Cut // Ribbons aren’t bad at all. Not to mention Wildgrowth Walker, which helps recover your life surprisingly quickly.

The removal in this deck is important for the obvious reasons, but it also helps power Deadeye Tracker, which is the format’s only self-repeating explore enabler. In my opinion, Deadeye Tracker is quite powerful. In gameplay, it actually feels a lot like Scrying Sheets; sometimes it draws you a land, and even if it doesn’t, you’re leveling up your 1/1. The targeted portion is the only bummer, but even that has its uses. All in all, I’m probably most excited about this one-drop Pirate. It’s important to note that exiling those cards is not a cost, so your opponent can still respond and exile the cards or move them out of the graveyard. If they do that for both target cards, the Explore activation does not resolve.

Most decks like this don’t need 26 lands, but Explore rewards you for hitting lands frequently, and it also ensures that you have something to do with your lands. Field of Ruin is the closest we’ll likely get to Tectonic Edge or Ghost Quarter, and it still does a great job at that. Remember, it’s a land that puts a card in your graveyard that you can target. Not too bad either way.

This deck’s consistency helps in shine in the long fights, and an explosive draw can fill your battlefield or your hand quickly, providing flexible options and a keg of fun while you’re doing it!

This ship, which kind of looks like a brigantine to me with its prominent foremast, is the lead ship of the line of Ixalan’s Pirates. It provides an Anthem effect where it matters, offense, and it can be helmed and led into battle itself, providing a good old Specter trigger when it hits. I’m really most interested in the Anthem effect, though, as it can be combined with two other prominent pumping effects available to many Pirates.

Many of our Pirates conduct their own aerial apparatuses, giving them flying and granting them another potential bonus.

Let’s keep the curve low and keelhaul our opponents!

Climb aboard with me!

While our one-drop selection is a bit paltry for Pirates (though Deadeye Tracker certainly is a good one), Siren Stormtamer is exceptional. With enough pumping, even a lowly 1/1 or 1/2 can still put a dent in our opponents; with flying as our main avenue, we just have to keep our opponents from harming us too much and to keep them from stopping us.

For those of you who played when Brain Maggot (or even Tidehollow Sculler) was legal, you know that this effect, while not perfect, is pretty neat. This time, Kitesail Freebooter comes to us with fewer things that can kill it, fewer things that can block it, and a relevant creature type. From what little testing I’ve done, this appears to be a powerful choice that has a tendency to tilt opponents. Or me. Either way, there’s something there.

I saw Dreamcaller Siren do some work this past weekend at the Prerelease, and it appears instantly, with flying, and alongside a powerful effect that works alongside Kefnet’s Monument, the most underrated of the Monument cycle from Amonkhet. Besides these, a singleton Admiral Beckett Brass drives, well, the brass home.

This leaves us with one final vessel.

Galleons weren’t warships; they mainly carried large amounts of cargo or people. While they weren’t normally engaged at the front of combat, they were enormous ships that still sported cannons to defend themselves. This is clearly reflected in this Vehicle’s bizarre power and toughness; two power won’t kill much, but ten toughness stops all but the heartiest of attackers dead in the water.

Conqueror’s Galleon is a strange Vehicle. Most Vehicles are directly designed to be efficient combat creatures, while this one has the same cost and stats as Indomitable Ancients. Moreover, you lose power when you crew this, turning four power into two. Its real benefit, then, is on the flipside: Conqueror’s Foothold. This multipurpose land provides reliable ramp and a battery of useful abilities. Unlike the color-producing lands like Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin or Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun, these are not legendary and can be played side by side, providing a steady stream of draw and card advantage.

My first thought is to build a deck that gets this thing into combat ASAP.

Anything that shaves a turn off this getting in the red zone is something I want. At ten toughness and four mana, this creature can safely attack into open mana or an army of defenders safely (Blessed Alliance is gone), so we just have to get there to flip this into a useful land.

Crewing is another question.

Gideon of the Trials, which has a chance to shine now that Gideon, Ally of Zendikar is gone, perfectly crews this and several other Vehicles, like Heart of Kiran. With the right combination of on-curve threats, we might be able to get a deck we’re happy with.

Red and white are good places to start, and I think granting ourselves extra mana should have some good payoffs too.

This deck comes in with powerful, reliable removal and paths to leverage the slower but more brutal cards in the list. Each planeswalker provides utility as well as pressure, as red planeswalkers are wont to do, and the subtle combination of Vehicles still features Conqueror’s Galleon. Given enough time, this utility land can produce specific card advantage not usually found in red and white.

With a heavy red focus, we can easily, and sometimes permanently, remove creatures from the battlefield. Hour of Devastation, although a bit lost in the shuffle, is still an exceptionally powerful removal spell, even if it does trigger all that Enrage nonsense. If you’d rather keep your planeswalkers around or deal with Dinosaurs like Carnage Tyrant and Ripjaw Raptor more cleanly, Fumigate does the trick.

Three different decks all adjust the sails of these new Vehicles, catching the winds and leading us towards fun on the high seas. Which new Vehicle is your favorite? What way are you steering your ships?