There may not be many tournaments during preview season but content creators satisfy their competitive urge in other ways; we all want to reveal the flashiest card or write about the set’s breakout star. My subject today has no guarantee of success but I can safely say I’ve bagged the cutest card of the Kaldheim preview season:
In card evaluation, ‘cute’ has negative connotations — an idea is too unreliable or not worth the effort. Esika’s Chariot may end up fitting that description too but I think there’s something worth exploring here. It’s hard to assess the card at a glance because it does a lot of familiar things in strange, new ways:
The first fleet of Vehicles in Kaladesh block was priced to move. Smuggler’s Copter was a staple in both aggressive and midrange decks in its short time in Standard. After the first wave of bans, Heart of Kiran became a marquee player in the best deck and any aggressive deck that could support it.
Aethersphere Harvester was an aggro mirror-breaker as well as a great defensive tool for decks with enough cheap creatures to crew it immediately. Skysovereign, Consul Flagship ruled the skies in midrange decks, forcing any creatures or planeswalkers easily picked off by it to justify their place in Standard.
These colourless threats with simple requirements shape decks and formats, making instant-speed removal and artifact removal much more important.
How demanding these are is up for debate. I initially thought Esika’s Chariot copied any creature — a power level more suited to the Throne of Eldraine cards that still and will define Standard — only to suffer a swift collision with reality. Being jolted out of that mindset forced me to look at the card from first principles again; it’s tempting to fixate on the nonsense you can get up to with the copying ability and lose sight of the bigger picture.
Only a handful of Vehicles come with their own pilots and the squad that Esika’s Chariot brings is a fine consolation prize even if the Chariot itself is removed. If Embercleave and The Great Henge continue to reign over Standard or new hits like The Ringhart Crest and Throne of Death show up, you can expect to see even more Embereth Shieldbreakers and Wilts making maindecks, so this is more important than in the artifact-light Standard formats of the past few years.
This ability addresses the inherent flaw in cards that enhance or rely on creatures, from Vehicles to Equipment to Auras — it doesn’t matter how strong the effect is if there’s nothing to enable it. Shutting off Vehicles by shooting the pilots is a go-to tactic (and a way to make use of otherwise poor sorcery-speed removal). Even decks commonly named after Vehicles, including the early Boros Vehicles decks that leaned into the theme with Veteran Motorist and Depala, Pilot Exemplar, could only run so many lest the traffic pile up with the drivers asleep at the wheel.
The ‘living weapon’-esque functionality increasingly found on Equipment like Giant’s Amulet helps here, but only for a higher sticker price or optional cost. Esika’s Chariot adds that same insurance to an already reasonable rate.
A pair of 2/2s can be a significant downgrade from a 4/4 — Bonecrusher Giant was one of the best cards before the Giant-themed set — but it does make it more likely that you can keep around a target for the attack trigger. Standard is short on cards that care about creature quantity rather than quality so a 2/2 isn’t a valuable commodity in itself.
The most common source of tokens and the scourge of anyone attacking on the ground in Standard, Lovestruck Beast is a great way to crew Esika’s Chariot but literally the biggest obstacle to it seeing play. Chariot lines up poorly on both offense and defense against Lovestruck Beast — if you want to copy that token, you must be willing to lose your Chariot for it.
Esika’s Chariot is appealing in the abstract but the conditions of current Standard are a mixed bag. Before dreaming about where we could put it, let’s think about where we should put it. Mono-Green Food is a pillar of Zendikar Rising Standard that creates a variety of tokens and stands to gain other new cards:
Food tokens are Standard’s most valuable currency. One Food can be the difference between Wicked Wolf chewing up the opponent’s battlefield or becoming the prey itself and Feasting Troll King making a triumphant return versus being stuck under its bridge forever. Any Mono-Green Food player encounters enough situations where they have to jump through hoops to get that crucial Food token that getting to create them as an incidental benefit will pique their interest.
Both Gruul Adventures and Mono-Green Food aim to curve out by presenting a single large threat each turn while Adventure creatures or cards like Gilded Goose provide uses for leftover mana. This strategy is exploitable by anyone who can cast answers at this rhythm while applying pressure or make a succession of favourable trades with cards like Doom Foretold or Elspeth Conquers Death. Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate upsets this dynamic by leaving something behind if it dies or creating a sustained advantage if it lives; Esika’s Chariot fills a similar role.
Competition in the four-drop slot comes from the even wordier Questing Beast, which allows Mono-Green Food to adopt a more aggressive stance when required. Esika’s Chariot doesn’t have that flexibility but does let you spend Turn 4 adding to the battlefield while effectively having a haste creature parked there to let you rebuild promptly after a sweeper.
Old-Growth Troll gives Mono-Green Food a three-drop that hits hard without any setup, relieving the pressure on Kazandu Mammoth to fill that slot in your curve when you don’t draw Lovestruck Beast and helping to power out The Great Henge. It’s just large enough to crew Chariot and the token it eventually creates is worth doubling up on with a Chariot trigger. Witch’s Oven helps Troll to dodge removal that would exile it and lets you turn Troll into a ramp spell if you just want to power out the top of your curve.
Let’s zoom in even further:
Whenever I see those words, I’m contractually obliged to mention my companion and life partner:
I’m no fair-weather Yorion fan. It was easy to love Yorion when it soared over Standard with Fires of Invention and Agent of Treachery but I was there for it even after its truly embarrassing debut in Zendikar Rising Standard:
If anything, you should take my future recommendation of any Yorion deck with a grain of salt — I’ve cried wolf too many times. That said, Autumn Burchett did a great job highlighting Yorion’s potential alongside another flashy green four-drop from Kaldheim and I think it’s poised to elevate Esika’s Chariot too.
Esika’s Chariot into Yorion, Sky Nomad represents a formidable battlefield presence even before combat and Yorion is the right size to crew Chariot if all these Cats disappear somehow. Other permanents that create tokens often do it when they enter the battlefield, making them ideal targets for both Yorion and Chariot. Autumn’s list isn’t built with Chariot in mind but already features other token sources like Alirios, Enraptured and the ultimate bucket-list target in Kiora Bests the Sea God. Chariot’s legendary status, typically a drawback, becomes a benefit with Kolvori, God of Kinship.
An older take on Yorion is an even better fit:
- 4 Gilded Goose
- 4 Wicked Wolf
- 2 Charming Prince
- 2 Kogla, the Titan Ape
- 4 Yorion, Sky Nomad
- 2 Llanowar Visionary
- 4 Skyclave Apparition
- 4 Tangled Florahedron
Selesnya Blink went from a Twitter musing from the mysterious mind of Bryan Gottlieb to an early frontrunner in Zendikar Rising Standard with Ondrej Strasky’s win in the CFB Pro Showdown. Skyclave Apparition and Elspeth Conquers Death put the squeeze on any strategy playing to the battlefield and are ready for a resurgence as players explore the new space opened up by Kaldheim. This would be great news for Esika’s Chariot, which lines up better against Apparition and Elspeth Conquers Death than most other four-drops and can also copy an Illusion left behind by an opponent’s Apparition.
Any base-Selesnya deck can freeroll additional crew members and high-value trigger targets for Chariot with Emeria’s Call. Note that there’s no window to crew Chariot between creating the tokens and granting creatures indestructible.
An excellent way to punch through a cluttered battlefield and allow Esika’s Chariot to tangle with the likes of Lovestruck Beast. The threat of a Stronghold activation can warp the game enough that you don’t need to activate it often for it to be worth the slots (and the occasional tension with other lands that enter the battlefield tapped).
Moving beyond the comfort of established archetypes, we find obscure and bizarre token creators begging to be used with Chariot as well as some intriguing new tools:
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 4 Beanstalk Giant
- 4 Bonecrusher Giant
- 2 Terror of the Peaks
- 4 Tangled Florahedron
- 3 Glasspool Mimic
- 4 Goldspan Dragon
A forgotten member of an unloved cycle, Mythos of Illuna shatters the ceiling on Esika’s Chariot. In addition to threatening a stream of copies of any permanent, you can also copy Chariot and keep the token so that each Chariot attack makes a new, untapped Chariot and two more 2/2s. Mythos has an acceptable floor of giving you another land in a mana-hungry deck and can let you hijack cards like Elspeth Conquers Death or The Great Henge in longer games.
Sam Black mentions Genesis Ultimatum as an obvious payoff for Goldspan Dragon and it has a history of success with Terror of the Peaks. Esika’s Chariot both produces more Treasure to turbo-charge your mana production and lets Terror of the Peaks have an immediate impact. Both Dragons are ideal targets for Mythos of Illuna if the first copy wasn’t quite enough.
Other miscellaneous token creators are worth filing away in case the parts come together:
Any deck with access to blue mana should strongly consider Shark Typhoon but it’s unlikely that a deck playing enough creatures (usually on your own turn) to enable Esika’s Chariot can make good use of it.
If you want the best token at the cheapest price, Archfiend’s Vessel makes you work for it. Darkbore Pathway means that some weird Golgari deck with this and Chariot could cast its spells but it’s unclear what those spells should be.
If you venture into Historic, the pool of options is deeper but the bar is much higher. The interaction between Chariot and Mythos of Illuna is intriguing but clunky — Historic has a similar effect that’s much scarier and more efficient.
Rarely seen outside its double act with Felidar Guardian, Saheeli Rai is the perfect way to paint some racing stripes on Esika’s Chariot. Saheeli can immediately create a token copy of Chariot with haste (and two more Cats), which can attack to make another copy of itself (and another two Cats). After this sequence you have added twelve power to the battlefield and have a souped-up Chariot ready for next turn.
Later, you can have Saheeli like a copy of any other creature for Chariot to copy when it attacks. It’s easy to dream big here with visions of Thragtusk or Cavalier of Flame being copied and looped but this is exactly the kind of deck that fails the rules of engagement for Historic right now. When any marginal value is outmatched by a single Muxus, Goblin Grandee and anything that relies on synergy between permanents runs into a wall of interaction from Sultai Midrange, your deck needs to have a lot more going for it otherwise.
I hope someone can crack the code for Historic or that changes will make that format more conducive to this kind of nonsense. Until then, you can ride into Kaldheim Standard in style.