Challenge the Stats - Depala's Demolition Derby

(Depala, Pilot Exemplar | Art by Greg Opalinski)

Now This is Podracing

Hello, and welcome to the new EDHREC series Challenge the Stats, based off of the wonderful segment by the same name on the EDHRECast. In this series, we'll challenge the inclusion rates of 10 cards in a deck on EDHREC. Our goal is to highlight cards that we think are seeing too much play or too little play and classify them as overplayed, underplayed, or sleeper picks (not showing up at all on the commander’s page, but really should).

Keep in mind that these suggestions are meant as considerations to accompany EDHREC’s data. However, inclusions made by flavor, budget, art, or anything important to you as the deck brewer are always valid and are what keep our format unique.

Our pick this week is the fun, flavorful, and one might say janky Depala, Pilot Exemplar. Depala pumps our Dwarves and our Vehicles, and she allows us to pay mana when she taps to draw cards... in Boros? That's right! If we reveal a Dwarf or Vehicle off of the top of our library, it goes into our hand. So as long as we commit ourselves to Depala’s favorite creature and artifact subtypes, we will accrue card advantage!

Depala is a "low-variance" commander - that is, there are many shared cards between all of her decks on EDHREC, as you can hear in a recent EDHRECast episode. She can go all-in on Dwarf tribal, heavy on Vehicles, or a mix of both to have her Dwarves pilot her Vehicles. This makes it all the spicier when we challenge the cards on her page and try to get some variation into our Depala deck.

I like Depala for two reasons. First, sometimes we need a low-power deck. Second, Depala will always be a low-power deck, no matter how much we modify and improve her. Why is that good, you might ask? I, for one, can’t stop tinkering with my decks. If I throw together a low-power deck, I find I fiddle with it, and it keeps creeping up and up in power level until it’s too good to stay in that janky spot I specifically made it for in the first place. Kristen Gregory, a recent guest on the EDHRECast and Content Manager for Hipsters of the Coast, recently wrote an excellent article on how hard it can be to build a casual deck. However, we can optimize Depala until the Thopters come home, and she will never exceed a casual power level. Dwarves are a naturally low-powered tribe, and Vehicles usually only work for either offense or defense, not both.

Even though this deck will be casual, Depala has the potential to make some epic, Commander-sized plays since her crew of Vehicles dodges most board wipes. After a board wipe, we will be looking to Crew our Vehicles quickly and swing big - summoning sick creatures can still Crew a Vehicle, so we'll never be far behind.

A quick look at the sorceries page on EDHREC shows us that, of the top 20 most popular board wipes, only four hit artifacts! And you can bet that all of the board wipes we're running are going to leave our Vehicles untouched. In addition, there is value to playing an unassuming commander, as Dana Roach mentions in his recent article. Think about it like this: if an opponent attacks another player because that player is playing a more threatening commander, we have generated a life advantage. If their board gets targeted, we have generated card advantage!

So, let’s take a look at some overplayed, underplayed, and sleeper picks for Depala to take her to the tiniest next level! We can see how often the picks are currently played next to the card names below.


1. Siege Modification (58%) and Aerial Modification (51%)

These cards turn Vehicles into creatures. However, I think that they are also quite overplayed, most likely as a result of being released in Kaladesh and for caring about Vehicles. Siege Modification and Aerial Modification have the weakness of most Auras, where getting our creature removed is a 2-for-1 that results in even further loss of card advantage. Additionally, these enchantments animate only one Vehicle each, and do so permanently, whereas Start Your Engines animates everything for a huge attack, and then they go back to being hard-to-remove artifacts. Also, we want to maximize the number of Dwarves and Vehicles in our deck for Depala to draw them, so every card slot that isn’t one of those is very precious.

2. Sky Skiff (38%)

With all of the Vehicles released in new sets, it’s time to upgrade and get rid of some of the old ones that don’t make as much of an impact. Yes, I’m talking to you, Sky Skiff. Even Sleek Schooner (17%) is seeing too much play in Depala decks. Let’s take those and upgrade them with the new Vehicles from the last few sets, like Thundering Chariot from Theros Beyond Death, which has a higher CMC than Sleek Schooner but the same Crew cost and a slew of keywords. Enchanted Carriage from Throne of Eldraine comes with its own crew of mice to smash into our opponents. Parhelion II from War of the Spark has a high CMC, but it’s well worth it for the army of Angels it creates, each of which can then Crew it during your next combat step! The fact that Wizards has been consistently printing Vehicles in new sets is promising for Depala to continue upgrading her deck for many sets to come.

3. Built to Smash (38%) and Built to Last (33%)

These combat tricks are flavorful with Vehicles, care about artifact creatures, and were released in the Kaladesh block with tons of Vehicles, so I can see why they might be included in this deck. Again, maybe if they animated Vehicles like Start Your Engines (78%), I could get behind them, but no dice. Most of the time, one-shot combat tricks in Commander make little impact and will probably feel like a dead card in our hand. That said, I like Built to Last a tiny bit better because it can save a key creature.


4. Assemble the Legion (22%)

Speaking of non-Dwarf non-Vehicle cards that should make the cut, Assemble the Legion is a powerhouse. It can impact the board in just about any deck, but in this one where we want to Crew our Vehicles after a board wipe, Assemble the Legion can give us the army in a can that we need. It triggers on our upkeep, so if the board wipe is our own we'll have to wait until the following turn to swing in, but if the board wipe is someone else’s, we might just be able to attack into an empty board willy-nilly. I like this card so much that I'm running a Hall of Heliod's Generosity just to get it back if I need to (or Smothering Tithe, if it somehow makes it into the bin). It takes a few turns to get going, so if you'd rather pack a punch right away consider something like Finale of Glory (0%). Or, if you like the effect, think about Outlaw's Merriment (18%) as a mini-version of Assemble the Legion.

5. Mystic Forge (19%)

When our commander cares about what’s on top of our library, cards that let us peek at the top are extra good. Not only can we play multiple Vehicles on our turn, but when it’s not our turn. Mystic Forge tells us if it’s worth it to pay mana into Depala to guarantee a Vehicle or Dwarf off the top. If we don't see a Vehicle or Dwarf on top, we can tap it to exile the top card and have a better chance of finding one. Also, simply exiling a card off the top that doesn't help us in the moment is good card selection, akin to a free scry once per turn.

6. Frantic Salvage (9%)

This card can really do some work. I imagine that after one of those unfortunate board wipes that hit artifacts, all of our gas will be in the graveyard. Frantic Salvage lets us set up our next draws to be amazing by putting all of those great artifacts back on top of our library. Not only that, we can use Depala to get the Vehicles off of the top and rebuild our battlefield quickly! (Just make sure to draw any non-Vehicle artifacts first.) Another way to rebuild fast is Scrap Mastery (13%) which is also underplayed. Try out both and see which one works better in your playgroup.

7. Spear of Heliod (8%)

Since we can usually only attack or block with a Vehicle, this handy Spear dissuades others from attacking so we can go on the offensive. If we’re holding mana open to activate this, it will likely act like a Maze of Ith, where the first player doesn’t attack us for fear of retaliation. Then, we have mana open still so the second player doesn’t attack us, and so on. The best part is, that mana won't go to waste; on the end step before our turn, we can crew a Vehicle with Depala and sink that three mana we were holding up into her ability to generate card advantage!


8. Noetic Scales (4%)

Noetic Scales is such a fun card that players are always looking for a good deck to make it work. Depala is that deck! This will bounce our opponents’ big creatures and leave our little pilots intact, so by the time it gets back to our turn, our Vehicles will have a clear road to put on the NOS.

9. Gideon, Martial Paragon (2%)

Like I said before, Vehicles are really good at either attacking or blocking, and we have to do some work for them to do both. There are a few different routes we could go to do this. We could do a one-shot mass untap such as Roar of the Kha, To Arms, or Rally the Troops. We could do a mass blink effect so our creatures come back untapped, such as Eerie Interlude or Ghostway (while our Vehicles are creatures). This option is a bit better since these spells can do double duty as protection.

However, we want value and repeatable effects! Our runner-up is Unwinding Clock, which is a good option but comes in second because it only untaps our Vehicles. Therefore, our winner is: Gideon, Martial Paragon. We can crew our Vehicles, attack, and then use his +2 to untap our pilots and Vehicles! He also has a nice ultimate that pumps our team and leaves our opponents shields down, letting him double as a win condition. Also, he will survive our creature board wipes!

10. Martial Coup (2%)

Now for the grand finale, easily the spiciest pick of the article. It may seem weird to challenge a board wipe, because there are so many options and they all just blow everything up right? Not so fast. Martial Coup does so much work for Depala. It's not only a board wipe, but also an army in a can, similar to Assemble the Legion or Finale of Glory. This deck wants to clear the board, dump out creatures, and swing in with the Vehicles already on the board. Martial Coup does all of that by wiping all creatures and leaving behind Soldiers to Crew our Vehicles, which are completely free to swing in.

Let's take a look at a decklist! This particular one has about 30% Dwarves and Vehicles to take advantage of Depala's activated ability, but if your playgroup likes to remove commanders we may want to reduce that number and lean into some other card draw engines.

Depala Goes to the Demolition Derby

Commander (1)
Creatures (17)
Planeswalkers (2)
Artifacts (28)
Instants (5)
Sorceries (6)
Enchantments (4)
Lands (37)

Buy this decklist from Card Kingdom
Buy this decklist from TCGplayer

The deck is already fairly budget since Vehicles and Dwarves are, for the most part, very inexpensive. This might free up some room in your budget for more expensive cards like Land Tax, as I included above. If you're looking for some more budget Depala ideas, be sure to check out the recent Commander's Quarters episode for a $50 deck tech!

What do you think about these picks for Depala? Are there any challenges you would add? Let us know in the comments below!

Jevin Lortie has been playing magic on and off since Portal. He has a PhD in nutritional sciences, so he always tells people to get a healthy serving of fruits and vegetables – especially ramp-les and draw-nanas.