Dear Azami: Dwarves In Cars Getting Coffee

Dwarves and Vehicles — what’s not to love? Sean McKeown takes a reader’s Depala, Pilot Exemplar Commander deck to another gear in this week’s Dear Azami!

#SCGINDY October 1-2!

Dear Azami,

My dad was a car guy. As a kid, if I wanted to find him on the weekends, I would have to visit the garage. He would undoubtedly always be changing the oil, cleaning spark plugs, or other things car guys do (I am not a car guy). But thanks to my dad, I do get a nostalgic feeling whenever I see old muscle cars (my dad favored Corvettes) speeding around. So when I saw that Kaladesh was going to feature Vehicles and there was even going to be a Vehicle “lord” of sorts, I got pretty excited. Plus, it is always good to see Boros commanders do things aside from attack, attack, attack.

My thoughts with the deck are to keep the mana curve low so I can reliably have extra mana with which to activate Depala’s ability. However, I want to make sure I don’t stumble on land drops, so I am including more than I might otherwise.

Also, aside from the Dwarves and Vehicles featured in the deck, I also thought tokens would be good for Crewing the various Vehicles. I have everything from Thopters to Myrs to Soldiers ready to drive around.

I was also thinking that Dwarves seem like they would drive pretty hard. So hard that the roads and streets might get damaged. This led me to thinking about a minor land destruction subtheme at which the Dwarves already excel. Honestly, I might just be trying to find an excuse to play From the Ashes, as that is one of my favorite cards of all time.

Dwarves playing Mad Max with a bunch of Vehicles likely means the Vehicles are going to find themselves in the graveyard, so I figured adding in some artifact recursion would also be helpful.

Stringing all of those thoughts together, I came up with the following:

Commander: Depala, Pilot Exemplar

Aerial Responder

Bomb Squad

Duergar Hedge-Mage

Duergar Mine-Captain

Dwarven Blastminer

Dwarven Bloodboiler

Dwarven Lieutenant

Dwarven Miner

Dwarven Recruiter

Dwarven Weaponsmith

Glint-Sleeve Artisan

Mine Layer

Goblin Welder

Solemn Simulacrum

Myr Retriever

Junk Diver


Palladium Myr

Burnished Hart

Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer

Pilgrim’s Eye

Precursor Golem

Thopter Engineer

Pia and Kiran Nalaar

Hangarback Walker

Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer

Sun Titan

Thopter Assembly


Sanctum Gargoyle

Knight of the White Orchid

Master Trinketeer

Toolcraft Exemplar

Fairgrounds Warden

Assemble the Legion

Volcanic Offering

Boros Charm

Daretti, Scrap Savant

Trash for Treasure

From the Ashes


Animation Module

Decoction Module

Fabrication Module

Darksteel Forge

Mind’s Eye

Trading Post

Hedron Archive

Sol Ring

Tamiyo’s Journal

Staff of Nin

Krark-Clan Ironworks

Commander’s Sphere

Boros Signet

Myr Turbine

Sword of the Animist

Demolition Stomper

Fleetwheel Cruiser

Ovalchase Dragster

Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

Bomat Bazaar Barge

Smuggler’s Copter

Inventors’ Fair

Darksteel Citadel

Great Furnace

Phyrexia’s Core

Buried Ruin

Command Tower

Temple of Triumph

Boros Guildgate

Boros Garrison

Clifftop Retreat

Battlefield Forge

Temple of the False God

Evolving Wilds

Terramorphic Expanse

Naya Panorama

Wind-Scarred Crag

Rogue’s Passage

Windbrisk Heights

Terminal Moraine

Warped Landscape

9 Plains

8 Mountains

I feel like the deck is primed to make use of Depala’s search ability, and the buffs they grant should be in effect more often than not. However, I am left wondering if this deck is too straightforward in its goal of revving engines and smashing. Is there a way I can give this deck an edge over other aggro decks while still being able to apply effective pressure on controlling decks? I was hoping the recursion would help me in that field, but I am uncertain if I included enough recursion. Maybe there’s a second angle of attack I’m missing?

Regardless, I am stoked for the inclusion of Vehicles to the Magic world and I am willing to use a budget of $80 (not including the store credit) to make this dream become a reality.



With the Kaladesh Prerelease this past weekend, I was hoping to crack Depala in order to see how good she is in 40-card decks… so of course, when given the chance to take her for a spin here in the land of 99-carders, I had to say yes. “Dwarves in Cars” sounds awfully weird for Magic, mostly because the Vehicle card subtype is brand new and will take some getting used to, much like Equipment did, but a R/W deck that is not focused on the usual boring linear things will always pique my interest.

Let’s just take a brief look at your commander to figure out what metrics we’re going to try to push here:

As a 3/3 for three mana who is also a lord – for two different niche subtypes, at that! – Depala, Pilot Exemplar is way above the curve even for Commander even before adding that “pay X” ability on. Being a Ringleader for both Dwarves and Cars, and being able to spend as much mana as you want each time, means that she’s also a card advantage machine, even if the only cards she’s advantaging up are those weird niches she favors. So obviously you want to be Dwarf Tribal, though like you I don’t want to commit too much to that because Dwarves tend to be smaller than your average Commander creature, and we’ll be interested in any Vehicles you can reasonably justify in order to make sure she can profitably tap without entering combat and getting eaten by a creature larger than her 3/3 stature.

I want to have plenty of Vehicles so we can be sure to always draw one – with only eleven in existence for now, I’ll be looking at their stats for arguments to exclude them rather than trying to decide which ones to include. Almost all of them are worth playing when looked at by that admittedly-loose metric. A few other ways to tap her – or to make sure she gets through unblocked, like with Rogue’s Passage – would also be worthwhile, but not to the point where I’m cutting Boros Signet for Springleaf Drum or trying to jam in enough white creatures to make Hand of Justice worthwhile.

First up, let’s work on the manabase. With Vehicles so central to our theme, I think this is a deck that is more interested than usual in playing creature-lands in this format, since they can fill in as Crew. We also have a few more low-hanging two-color lands we can play before we resort to things like Terminal Moraine, plus I’d like a few more utility lands here in general, which suggests to me the following changes:



It can sometimes be a bit hard to keep creatures on the battlefield in Commander; some people play Wrath effects in 99-card decks the way one-for-one removal gets played in 60- or 40-card decks. It’s pretty safe to rely on lands, though, so having them able to turn on your already sorcery-speed-Wrath-proof Vehicles will help keep pressure on when you’re low on resources.


Looking for a bit more utility out of our lands, Kor Haven helps with some solid defense on the cheap, while Slayers’ Stronghold can fill a whole lot of roles for us: granting haste to a big creature (or brand-new Vehicle) as well as a bit of extra power, giving our best attacker Vigilance so we have something left on defense later, or even just giving a small creature the power boost it needs to Crew a beefier Vehicle than it could normally manage alone.

We’re adding a lot of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, but we’re getting solid utility out of them and this deck’s curve is low enough that they should still be pretty easy to sequence – so long as you can play your commander on turn 3, you’ll be able to spend all of your mana productively each turn from there on out. Myriad Landscape is two mana out of one land, just like Boros Garrison and Temple of the False God are; Inspiring Vantage is a better two-color land than the Battlefield Forge we’d cut for it; and Spinerock Knoll is easily the best Hideaway land in Commander, since it can be triggered off of other players’ efforts as well as your own.

Moving on to the artifacts, I have six cuts to make but will only be putting four cards back in. I think we need at least a bit of removal if this deck is going to succeed, requiring that I make room for other spells out of some of the weaker themes presented here. The six least-performing artifacts to my eye were these:


Commander’s Sphere could be replaced with a Vehicle, and thus I did exactly that. For the rest, I think Krark-Clan Ironworks and Tamiyo’s Journal are trying to play around with the Goblin Welder-style cards a bit too much and may not otherwise do very much for us, while the pair of Modules cut here aren’t really supported by the rest of the deck. Sword of the Animist wouldn’t be anywhere near the first Equipment card I’d want to add to the deck – I’d prefer to focus on the new card type rather than start layering on a second one, as Dwarves in Cars with Swords is a stretch too far even in this Mad Max-themed deck. Since Equipment does not mesh particularly well with Vehicles that are only temporarily creatures, I’d cut them entirely here, even if you’re only trying to use it as a supplemental mana-ramp mechanism.

Adding back in, first I made room for two more Vehicles:

As more Vehicles come out, I think we can be a bit more discerning with which ones we include, but right now we need to have enough of them to find reliably, even if we’d cut some of these ones when new ones come out. Since even a weak Vehicle is still going to be bigger than the biggest Dwarf, they’re more important for us to find. Our Dwarves have supplemental abilities, like that pair of land-harassing Miners, but they’ll largely be relied upon to Crew Vehicles, and if those rides don’t show up, they’re going to feel an awful lot like wasted cardboard.

For the other two slots, I wanted a bit more removal but also wanted to work with some of the themes those Modules were trying to play around with. Both Modules meddled with the +1/+1 counters found on a decent chunk of your creatures, and you could accomplish much the same thing with Proliferate if you really wanted to, which allows me to get my removal needs met by adding a Contagion Engine that still supports this counter-manipulation side of the deck.

For the last addition, I felt that a throwback card would be appropriate, adding in what would have been one of the first Vehicles if we’d had that particular card subtype way back when:

Skyship Weatherlight is still pretty awful, but Predator, Flagship can give us flying cars – it’s 2016, we were promised flying cars! – while also giving us another way to tap Depala in relative safely by letting her fly over most defenses. Predator, Flagship also gives us something relevant to do when we have plenty of mana available to us but have run out of cards, providing a solid removal effect turn after turn when we’re low on other relevant resources. No one aspect of the card justifies it in and of itself, but I think that with what the deck is trying to accomplish and the themes it’s playing with that we can give it a slot. The more boring solution here would be to go for Spine of Ish Sah to go with your Welder effects and Phyrexia’s Core, but this is a bit more interesting to me. Flying cars!

Moving on to the spells, I have two cuts but four additions – we’re going to upgrade Refurbish into a better recursion spell and then add some more ways to kill an opposing creature while leaving our own battlefield intact. The biggest weakness I saw out of the deck was its comparative inability to do anything about an opponent’s side of the battlefield, so a few ways to do that that won’t hurt the Dwarves in Cars team would be well appreciated.


I’m not sold on Daretti here because planeswalkers are very hard to defend in Commander. In this deck, a planeswalker will generally be a glorified spell we’d be happy to have one use out of plus a permanent that maybe gets to stay on the battlefield so we get some benefit out of if our opponents leave it alone.

Trash to Treasure is not the spell I’m most interested in replicating here, and the planeswalker I’d be most interested in for this deck would actually be Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. Her one-sided Wrath effect is already ideal for most of the creatures we’re playing and the potential to get more creature tokens out of her later that will power our Vehicles or even hope for an emblem if things get crazy. We can add more artifact recursion effects if we want them without caring if they put them directly onto the battlefield – barring the Darksteel Forge, our most expensive artifacts cost six or seven mana and our spells are generally affordable in this deck, so we don’t gain much value by cheating them onto the battlefield.

That’s also why I’m happy to replace Refurbish with Mine Excavation – we generally won’t care about spending two more mana to put the artifact directly onto the battlefield, but the option to get a two-for-one is quite important to us. We can expect our Vehicles to go to the graveyard with some frequency and we’ll want them back, plus most of the top-end creature threats in this deck are artifacts as well. Admittedly the Conspire part might be a bit difficult – Depala makes one, but we have a lot of red Dwarves and colorless artifact creatures, so keeping a second white creature handy for when we need it will take a bit of planning and forethought. But we really like recursion, so we can keep doing our thing, and we’re in a color combination that is routinely short on card advantage, so I’ll take it when I can find it.

Our last two slots are “just” mass removal that should leave our side of things intact:

While Austere Command is quite boring these days, that’s because it’s the best there is at what it does and what it does is quite nice – in this case, destroy all creatures above Depala’s 3/3 stature while also leaving your un-Crewed Vehicles alone. You don’t particularly want to destroy all artifacts or all creatures with three power and below, so you’re probably going to announce it for “destroy all creatures with converted mana cost 4 or greater, destroy all enchantments,” since this deck has all of one enchantment of its own to care about. The other options are nice and may be relevant, but in that mode it will basically kill only opponents’ things, never your things.

Fell the Mighty can likewise kill a whole swathe of large creatures while leaving your side of the board untouched. It’s worth playing here even though it is one of those awkward removal spells your opponents can counter with something other than a counterspell. While Martial Coup or Phyrexian Rebirth would be more reliable, I’d rather not kill our support creatures if we don’t have to, so I’ll take Fell the Mighty instead and note that we’ll probably need to use a bit of politics to make sure it kills what we need it to and plan accordingly. Talking with an opponent who should be similarly interested in a mass-removal effect so they don’t sacrifice the creature you target just to counter the spell will help cover 80% of the card’s shortfalls, and even if all it does is force an opponent to sacrifice a creature of your choice to counter the mass removal aspect of the card, that’s still going to be good enough at least once in a while.

This finally brings us to looking at the deck’s creature base, where I have seven swaps I’d like to make. Five Dwarves aren’t pulling their weight as far as I’m concerned, but I only have four Dwarves to add back in – and that’s after cheating and allowing for Changelings. Otherwise it would just be two more new Dwarves from the realm of Kaladesh that I felt were worthwhile additions to the tribe, plus a few random recursion creatures and an artifact creature I’m surprised didn’t make it in already.


These creatures were all just too darn small, even for Dwarves, to be worthwhile – there just wasn’t enough worthwhile card to these pieces of cardboard to justify keeping them. Sure, we could theoretically stack triggers just right to maximize our Bomb Squad triggers and Proliferate them to boot with Contagion Engine, but realistically speaking we’ll usually be spending four mana for a crappy 1/1 that will die without doing anything and no one will care. Having cast Bomb Squad more often in Limited than I’d prefer to admit, I am forced to cut it here – the rose-colored-glasses view of the card never pans out.

We’ll add back in two new Dwarves worth filling their seats instead, getting a bit more card for our efforts or at least something that can Crew a Vehicle better:

All of the Fabricate Dwarves are of interest to me here, since you’d wanted to play around a bit with +1/+1 counters, and Veteran Motorist has a decent trigger when it Crews a Vehicle, so I’m happy to add it in. Much like the Vehicle subtype, there are so few Dwarves available to us that I’d be happy to revise the decklist after Aether Revolt in order to upgrade both of the deck’s “tribes” when more are printed… but given what we have before us right now to work with, these two make the cut.

As do these two:

Cheating, I know. But Taurean Mauler will be the biggest Dwarf in your deck by far, while Mirror Entity gives us a way to make all of our Dwarves big and lets any Crewed Vehicles count as both Dwarves and Cars for Depala’s tribal bonuses. We’re light on ways to finish off opponents from a decent life total, giving Mirror Entity a vital role in a stalled late-game: turn a bunch of mana and a couple of Dwarves into a lethal attack force. That’s certainly more than we’ll ever get out of, say, Dwarven Lieutenant.

For the fifth slot, I wanted another removal effect and preferably one that worked with the deck’s recursion elements. Adding Duplicant to your artifact-matters deck with Goblin Welder and other artifact recursion effects seemed to be an obvious choice.

I wanted to build that recursion up a little bit more with our last two substitutions, so I have just two more cuts to make:

I am skeptical that Precursor Golem is actually helping; I suspect it’s here mostly as a juicy Goblin Welder target, and we’ve just gained a much better one by adding Duplicant. The best place for your Precursor Golem to be is actually in the graveyard, where it leaves behind two perfectly mundane 3/3 Golem tokens that don’t all automatically die to just one removal spell. I also don’t think Slobad, Goblin Tinkerer’s protection ability is that important to us when we can just buy back dead artifacts instead. Slobad doesn’t seem to be contributing to some greater whole by being here, so I’m going to cut it for something that does.

Our last two additions come simply by looking for ways to increase the Junk Diver / Sanctum Gargoyle count, as we can add two more comparable effects at low cost in order to make sure we’ve always got action and nothing important stays dead forever.

Neither is much to write home about, but in this deck they will keep the cards that matter in play and provide a useful body while they do so. Not everything has to hit a home run; some cards just need to get on base or advance the batters, and that’s what Treasure Hunter does as far as I’m concerned. Putting it all together, we get the following:

Magic Card Back

As always, for your participation in this week’s edition of Dear Azami you’ll receive a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com Store. You listed a maximum budget of $100 (including the coupon) and we came out considerably under that, at just over $65, thanks to the fact that plenty of the cards we added were new commons and uncommons from Kaladesh to go with the Dwarven tribal theme or otherwise were cards worth just a quarter or two thanks to the fact that they’re not frequently played in any format these days. Pricing them out individually, they cost as follows:



Ballista Charger


Ghitu Encampment


Razor Hippogriff


Treasure Hunter


Visionary Augmenter


Mine Excavation


Forbidding Watchtower


Predator, Flagship


Veteran Motorist


Slayers’ Stronghold


Spinerock Knoll


Mirror Entity


Mishra’s Factory


Taurean Mauler


Martial Coup


Cultivator’s Caravan


Needle Spires


Contagion Engine


Myriad Landscape




Elspeth, Sun’s Champion


Inspiring Vantage


Kjeldoran Outpost


Kor Haven


Austere Command



We’re still just getting started with Kaladesh – after all, the set doesn’t even actually release until this Friday! – and there are plenty more interesting commanders for us still to work with. Gonti, Lord of Luxury offers us an interesting new legendary creature to helm a mono-black control deck, while Padeem, Consul of Innovation offers new benefits to build around in an artifact-heavy blue deck. But the one that draws my eye the most has to be Rashmi, Eternities Crafter… free card advantage is a hard thing to pass up, especially when you can get free mana too by sort of giving every spell you cast Cascade. I love a good U/G deck something fierce, and they’re generally limited in how many commanders they have available to choose from. If no one sends in a Rashmi deck, I may just have to build my own if Levi doesn’t beat me to it!

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Kent’s Kambal, Consul of Allocation deck or Wayne’s Grenzo, Havoc Raiser deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!

Email us a deck submission using this link here!

Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here, in the Article Archives! And feel free to follow Sean on Facebook… sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page as well as previews of future columns!

#SCGINDY October 1-2!