People who follow me on Twitter or listen to the Pioneer Perspective Podcast will not be surprised to hear that I am a big fan of the vehicle-related cards in Neon Dynasty. Here, I will go over my first brew of this set: Azorius Vehicles. I will discuss what draws me to the archetype, what the strengths are, what the potential weaknesses are and what my initial take on the deck is.
As a big fan of Savana Lions (one-mana, 2/1 creatures), I am immediately drawn to this deck since it features the new Hotshot Mechanic and perhaps the best “Savana Lion” of all time in Toolcraft Exemplar. It also calls back to the Kaladesh block, where my magic career started.
Vehicles as a whole are very quirky and cool cards: they dodge most sweepers, can effectively give haste to other creatures, can often be evasive and playing them tends to involve lots of small-scale math. This is actually something I really enjoy. Using a Toolcraft Exemplar to crew a Heart of Kiran to crew a Surgehacker Mech just feels slick to do and interactions like that is what really makes Magic ‘Magic’ for me.
Vehicle decks excel at fighting sweepers. The vehicles themselves don’t get hit by them and can immediately start swinging again the moment you crew them on your next turn. This means control decks cannot get the breather that sweepers often give them. The fact that you can play a vehicle on an early turn and then animate them using cheap creatures like Hotshot Mechanic also allows you to leave up interaction like Spell Pierce and Mystical Dispute on key turns. This gives you another edge versus control decks but also helps a lot versus combo decks.
The above-rate stats that most vehicles have paired with lots of them being evasive also means you are pretty good at contesting the battlefield. Consider the following sequence: play a Toolcraft Exemplar on turn one, followed up by a Heart of Kiran on turn two, allowing you to swing in for three damage. On turn three, you play a Mobilizer Mech and a Hotshot Mechanic. You can now animate your Heart of Kiran with Toolcraft Exemplar and get in for four, then block with a 3/4 Mobilizer Mech and a 4/4 Heart of Kiran. Those are pretty good numbers for turn three! If you are currently the aggressor, you can also choose to swing with the Toolcraft Exemplar (that now has first strike!) on top of your Heart of Kiran that your mechanic is crewing. This leaves you with no blockers, but that might not be relevant with an opponent at ten life staring down seven power with flying.
“The deck has basically all that it wants to have in Azorius: good, low-mana pilots and vehicles, interaction, card advantage and stax against combo decks.”
The first drawback to the vehicles archetype is that a lot of your cards are artifacts and a lot of them rely on activated abilities. This means you are very weak to cards like Karn, The Great Creator, Kolaghan’s Command, Prismari Command etc. Lots of cards that interact with artifacts do so quite favourably. A good example is Abrade which is just a two-mana Murder when it’s used on one of your artifacts even when they are not crewed. Artifact interaction is also quite common in the colours red and green and almost every deck in Pioneer is at least one of those colours. This means that if people set out to beat your deck, they most likely can with a few smart main/sideboard inclusions.
The other weakness is that sequencing can be a little awkward and your speed can vary quite a bit depending on how your hand lines up. Part of this is simply skill in piloting the deck – and I certainly have a lot of learning to do on this front – part of it is just inherent to the deck. Mobilizer Mech can obviously provide a lot of power with its ability to crew another vehicle for free, but if your one-drop gets killed early and you spend turns playing new pilots instead of your Mindlink Mech, playing a turn-two Heart of Kiran could have netted you 2-3 points of extra damage. One card I want to highlight in particular is Reckoner Bankbuster. This card has such a ridiculous amount of play to it that it feels impossible to always make the right call. You always want to look for a balance between vehicles, pilots and pressuring your opponent’s life total. Knowing when and when not to take the tempo loss from this card can be a real challenge!
My First Takes
When the set initially dropped on Magic Arena I played some Historic to give the deck a first spin. This meant I did not have access to Darksteel Citadel and Ensoul Artifact, two cards I will discuss later. This is what I ended up with after jamming a few dozen games:
The list feels pretty good! Historic is a very different format but for the purpose of testing I cared more about what my deck was doing in terms of sequencing, mana and raw damage output in racing scenarios.
Pioneer has access to Darksteel Citadel and Ensoul Artifact, and this adds a different dimension to the deck. You can now hit a land drop off Ingenious Smith, which felt really good to do with Glint-Nest Crane in other decks in the past. Ensoul Artifact is a good way to instantly crew and buff a vehicle and also means there is a way for your vehicles to punch Karn, the Great Creator in the face when he has locked your garage door and thrown away the key. On top of all this, these two cards together make for a 5/5 indestructible beatstick – not bad!
This is the build I eventually ended up with in Pioneer:
The numbers are a little less clean in this version as it was quite hard to find room for Ensoul Artifact after I discovered how good of a card Reckoner Bankbuster is. Darksteel Citadel also means the manabase has taken a little bit of a hit in terms of colours. Making slightly more land drops with Ingenious Smith and enabling Spire of Industry just a little more easily, together with the increased overall power should hopefully make up for that fact. A reprint of Seachrome Coast would be an absolute godsend for this deck’s manabase.
Why Only Two Colours?
And now, to address the elephant in the room: why am I only playing two colours? For starters, I think you absolutely do not need more. The deck has basically all that it wants to have: good, low-mana pilots and vehicles; interaction that can be found off Ingenious Smith; card advantage; interaction and stax for combo decks. Thoughtseize for more disruption or Shrapnel Blast for some reach would be nice, but I doubt that it is worth the trouble. I also really wanted to try Darksteel Citadel and Ensoul Artifact, but running four colourless lands in a three-colour deck with a relatively low land count sounds like a recipe for disaster. I know 12 shocks can fix most of that problem, but I find myself shocking in basically every Hallowed Fountain I draw, so going up to a very high number of shock lands basically means you start every game at 10-12 life. No thanks.
I am very exited to see Vehicles finally getting a time to shine in Pioneer. Vehicles are an awesome card type with lots of interesting decisions and powerful synergies that should now be able to find a spot in the metagame. I am looking forward to Tokyo drifting my way to some wins!
Now I’ll throw it back to you! What do you think? Is Azorius the way to go or do you have other sweet synergies in mind in other colours? Feel free to drop any brews in the comments and if any experienced pilots have some tips for this aspiring racing driver, I would really appreciate them!