Kaladesh is officially here, and with it comes a whole new Standard format with new heroes, villains, and pet decks. The results of #SCGINDY painted a very clear picture of the format, and from there it is easy to derive what we can expect to see in the weeks to come.
Learned: The Ubiquity of Smuggler’s Copter
No matter what you are playing, the odds are high it has Smuggler’s Copters. While it’s an obviously efficient threat that passes the bar for seeing play, there a confluence of events that have caused this to occur.
First, Smuggler’s Copter is an artifact that doesn’t ask a lot of your strategy. “Play creatures and attack” is something basically any color can do these days. Maybe blue is a lot worse at it once you realize Prized Amalgam isn’t actually a Magic card you cast, let alone a blue one, but even then you are talking about a card that slots right into four colors of strategies.
There are a number of answers to Smuggler’s Copter, but the whole “only a creature when they can play instants” thing often makes trying to line up your removal with it awkward. Really, a big part of this is that the instant-speed two-drop answers are significantly more limited than they have been in the past. This is very similar to the issues control decks have had with Battle for Zendikar creature-lands over the last year, but the timeframe to shut off a Copter is much smaller as the loot wins the game before the damage does.
Derived: Play the removal that works. I can’t understate this: if you aren’t trying to blank Smuggler’s Copter by attacking as hard as those decks are, you need Harnessed Lightning, Grasp of Darkness, or another cheap instant answer.
However, there are only so many of those to go around. This in turn makes the best answer to Smuggler’s Copter also being proactive, which usually means your own Smuggler’s Copters. You can even block a Copter with a Copter and match looting parity, and as seen on camera in the Kiefer vs. Jessup match Day 1, the player blocking with a Smuggler’s Copter gets the Fiery Temper initiative by waiting out the opposing attack-loot trigger and then animating and madnessing on the block-loot.
Note: Fragmentize really doesn’t work. To give more recent examples, it would be like sideboarding in Dark Betrayal against Mono-Blue Devotion to kill Nightveil Specter. If you draw Fragmentize and they don’t draw Smuggler’s Copter, you aren’t getting anywhere. Sure, maybe it kills Fleetwheel Cruiser, but you already took five damage on that exchange.
Smuggler’s Copter also plays very well with Shadows over Innistrad. The obvious synergy is madness for the super-messed-up one-mana Lightning Bolt cantrip mode of Fiery Temper, but the entire set of graveyard shenanigans also gains. Haunted Dead is especially nice as the 1/1 Spirit Crews the Copter and Smuggler’s Copter being an artifact is a plus for Delirium. Even some of the Battle for Zendikar mechanics play well, in case you were interested in the colorless creature aspect.
So you have a hyper-efficient threat that is really hard to answer well and has tons of synergy value. It’s not quite Tarmogoyf, but it creates similar pressures on the format.
Just kidding, there were 32 Smuggler’s Copters in the Top 8 and 52 in the Top 16. Smuggler’s Copter is just the same thing as Tarmogoyf in Time Spiral block where everyone deformed their deck to play it because it was often the best answer to their Tarmogoyf. “This just in, fairy godmother Smuggler’s Copter is $50.” (Just kidding, it’s only $15 as I’m writing this article.)
Learned: The Fight Back, or, How to Win the Mirror
[Editor’s Note: The following paragraph contains an interaction that does not work exactly as described. Ari addresses this in the Comments section. It is being left here for completion’s sake and to maintain the context of the discussion in the Comments.]
As mentioned, the Copter dogfights are one of the key parts of combat in the format. Pushing your Smuggler’s Copter to a 4/4 does double duty by pushing it over their Smuggler’s Copter and protecting it from “block-loot-Fiery Temper” lines of play. Worth noting: Veteran Motorist’s Crew bonus is a triggered ability, so you can still kill the Smuggler’s Copter in response to the trigger with your Harnessed Lightning or Fiery Temper. You also can re-Crew a Vehicle after it has been Crewed, allowing you to use a second Veteran Motorist like a Ghost Warden for an on-battlefield trick +1/+1 in weird cases.
Maybe you won’t have your own Smuggler’s Copter on the battlefield. You are probably getting looted to death, but you can try to block. One of the other big innovations of Team Cardhorder was Weaver of Lightning. It doesn’t look like it belongs in the deck, but it sure does block a Smuggler’s Copter. Sadly, it looks pretty stupid when the mirror match also has the “pump Copter to a 4/4” tech, but the incidental damage should take care of Veteran Motorist at the least.
That’s where the Galvanic Bombardment half of the equation comes in. The rest of the W/R Vehicles deck is cheap creatures that you want cheap answers to, and Galvanic Bombardment is just what you want. The bonus for multiples is also hard to enable without the ability to dig through your deck, but that’s where Smuggler’s Copter loots and Veteran Motorist scrys come in. Getting Bombardment to three damage to kill Smuggler’s Copter and Fleetwheel Cruiser is fairly easy.
Derived: You need a new plan for next week. As mentioned, you are going to be facing a lot of 4/4 Smuggler’s Copters next week which jam right through your Weaver of Lightnings. The card won’t be enough as a way to hold off opposing Smuggler’s Copters.
If you aren’t casting white and/or red spells with your Smuggler’s Copter, the big payoff has to be Ishkanah, Grafwidow. While Weaver of Lightning merely pushes against a Smuggler’s Copter, Ishkanah stops it dead in its tracks. While Declaration in Stone doesn’t answer opposing Smuggler’s Copters, it had a huge presence at the top tables in large part because it handles most of an Ishkanah in one shot. It also isn’t the worst thing to fire off in a mirror, as it opens you up to getting a blowout and easily winning a game or stabilizing against some of the super-fast Toolcraft Exemplar starts, which is a huge plus.
Derived: Any 3/4 or larger flying or reach creature is worth considering. Verdurous Gearhulk is clearly a more powerful card than Archangel Avacyn now that the Hangarback Walker auto-transform play is no longer available, but the old guard may not be quite out of the picture yet. A lot of similarly driven choices are likely to be made now that Smuggler’s Copter is the status quo.
There is also one removal spell I didn’t cover earlier as it is exceptionally narrow in where it can be placed: Kozilek’s Return. Instant. Five damage. Kills Smuggler’s Copter and whatever is Crewing it on the spot.
There’s just the whole “how do I resolve the trigger in time to not die” part. Just casting an eventual Emrakul, the Promised End isn’t enough like last year, despite being able to attack their 3/3 flier into your 13/13. You are long dead even by most of the best-case scenarios. In a non-graveyard shell, you might be able to resolve your Eldrazi on time, but it’s near-impossible to do so while also getting a Kozilek’s Return into your graveyard to trigger. Casting it for the front end is a sketchy proposition at best.
It also isn’t an instant unless paired specifically with Elder Deep-Fiend, so you basically are required to form a self-mill Emerge shell to make all the pieces work. Fortunately this is a proven strategy that has lost fairly little and gained a lot since last Standard.
- 4 Prized Amalgam
- 4 Insolent Neonate
- 2 Wretched Gryff
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Haunted Dead
- 2 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
It’s no mistake Zach Voss came within a couple of games of the trophy this last weekend. He found a key piece to the puzzle.
Cathartic Reunion is a weird card. In any deck that is reasonably fair, it is pretty bad and likely worse than Tormenting Voice. In a late-game, drawing it is a huge liability and you really have to shift your game play to avoid drawing a dead Cathartic Reunion. In Zach’s deck, the additional dig/discard/filtering on top of Tormenting Voice is a big deal with so many graveyard pieces and so many potential bricks, and unlike other decks, you can use dead Cathartic Reunion to rebuy a Haunted Dead. Haunted Dead and Cathartic Reunion also overlap on requiring you to hold extra cards, meaning the “save two bricks” line of play pays you off in multiple ways and is less likely to be you fumbling around for no payoff.
Beyond the innovative shell, the basic Emerge strategy has another edge in Wretched Gryff. Remember that 3/4 flier number I threw out earlier? Oh look, guess what that describes.
Derived: Expect more Emerge strategies moving forward. That is all.
Learned: The Best of What Is Missing
Liliana, the Last Hope was an extremely powerful card last Standard that just didn’t fit into either of the best shells in the format. The departure of Collected Company was supposed to take some of the pressure off planeswalkers and let it shine, but we still only saw a couple of copies at the top tables. What happened?
Vehicles happened. It turns out that the highly played cards with the new mechanic are very hostile toward planeswalkers. You can’t block them well with tokens. They don’t fall to sorcery-speed interaction via a planeswalker activation. They hit hard and evasively. It’s just basic fantasy logic: if planeswalkers were better than cars, then why did anyone invent cars to start?
This is what you see Team Cardhorder’s W/R Vehicles list getting away with so many one-toughness creatures despite having options that don’t die to Liliana’s +1. It just doesn’t matter as Liliana, the Last Hope doesn’t line up well against your actual best card. They can pick off one of your cheap creatures because you are just going to finish their planeswalker on the spot with the threat they can’t handle with it. Liliana, the Last Hope is basically Essence Extraction that can’t actually target their Smuggler’s Copter.
The same applies to Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Chandra, Torch of Defiance. You play your planeswalker, it tries to do its thing, but apparently all it does it walk out into traffic and get run over. The Flametongue Kavu comparison with Chandra, Torch of Defiance falls apart when you start talking about the -3 being used to kill a one- or two-mana threat and Chandra dying on the swing back. At least the Kavu traded for two creatures and not just one and an attack.
You do see these cards showing up in sideboards. Some people will show up and try to not play Smuggler’s Copter. It’s just the nature of Magic that they want to be the person who beats the cool thing instead of beating everyone easily with said cool thing. If the baseline answers to Smuggler’s Copter are bad, the answers to Gideon are even worse and also don’t line up at all with the ones to Smuggler’s Copter. Your opponent is going to lose to one of these cards. With any luck, they will storm off into the corner complaining about not getting Mana Drain these days and how these newfangled card types are ruining the game.
Derived: There are other things people are going to try to beat you with. This is another reason just to attack them and fight Smuggler’s Copter in combat.
Despite Smuggler’s Copter being everywhere, this is not a one-deck format. There are a wide variety of threats that you can expect (or not expect) to face over a tournament. Even though everyone is playing a Smuggler’s Copter deck, your answers aren’t going to cover Prized Amalgam; Elder Deep-Fiend; Toolcraft Exemplar; Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; and Ishkanah, Grafwidow at the same time.
Build your deck in the following way:
Find your threat.
Find the threats that line up best against it.
Add the answers that handle those and Smuggler’s Copter.
Fill with the appropriate enablers.
Then append those to the four Smuggler’s Copters you started with and call it a day.