Mind Bend - Sultai Vehicles
(Siren of the Silent Song | Art by Anthony Palumbo)
Baby, You Can Drive My Car
"Rules and rails are made to be broken."
—Aradara Express flavor text
Vehicles, a relatively new invention that was first introduced in Kaladesh, act like Equipment in reverse. Your Cultivator's Caravan becomes a 5/5 by forming a crew of low-power creatures as opposed to your low-power creature becoming a 5/5 via a Sword of Feast and Famine. In both scenarios, you're banking on "going tall" by building up a single threat to hurl at your opponents. It's a cornerstone Boros: aggressive, large threats played early to make sure you won't have opponents for too long. That's why this Mind Bend, the article series that breaks down the conventional notions of the color pie to forge new ground outside the confines of the already established, we're driving these Vehicles out of the Boros garage and parking them right into Sultai's lot.
An Exemplar List
Just how far is the Vehicles theme skewed in Boros' direction? Out of the over 1200 Vehicle decks on EDHREC, just one Boros commander helms over 60% of them: Depala, Pilot Exemplar.
Depala, Pilot Exemplar proves that Boros players will take anything when it comes to card advantage. Although fresh-off-the-printing-press commanders like Wyleth, Soul of Steel and Akiri, Fearless Voyager have shown that Wizards of the Coast is now giving the color combination better rewards for doing what it does best, Depala was possibly the first to do so years ago.
Granted, you needed to focus your deck around two very specific things: Dwarves and Vehicles, with both at high density, to reap the benefits. Yet the Kaladesh block brought some great new Dwarfs alongside the "new car smell" of Vehicles. The deck nearly built itself right then and there: find the right mixture of value-driven Dwarves and muscular Vehicles and you had a lean, mean Boros machine.
According to the EDHREC average Depala, Pilot Exemplar decklist, you'll find roughly twenty or so Vehicles ready to ram right into your opponents and at least ten Dwarves to fill your crew with small upsides, like Duergar Hedge-Mage. On top of that, add a few ace pilots; Renegade Wheelsmith is a great example.
Subsequent years have been somewhat kind to the deck, with a smattering of new potential inclusions every few sets. It's an easy-to-maintain deck that handles well right off the lot.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Now that we've reviewed the Boros build, let's slap a fresh coat of paint on this Vehicles deck make it into a beautiful, streamlined Sultai machine, with sweet black, green, and blue stripes. And to do that, let me introduce you to our driver, the new #1 Turtle: Archelos, Lagoon Mystic.
Now, you might be wondering, "Hey, doesn't Archelos' flavor text say, albeit slowly, that 'Life is not a race?'" That fact is that Archelos, Lagoon Mystic is the best pilot in the multiverse not named Depala. Sorry, Sonic, our goal isn't to go fast, our goal is just to go faster than everyone else, and we can do that by slowing them all down.
The Crew mechanic on Vehicles means that we can easily tap our commander without need for haste or for our Turtle shaman to ever cross into the red zone. Having our commander tapped creates a massive speed bump for our opponents to navigate, which we will use to our advantage.
Archelos won't be our only pilot in this build. We need a little more inspiration to bring this dream machine to life. Luckily, there is a lesser-known Vehicle deck out there that we can emulate: King Macar, the Gold-Cursed.
Lovingly known as "Dude, Where's Macar?", King Macar, the Gold-Cursed has a build dedicating him to crewing some fancy Vehicles so that he can untap and exile a threat, making a little change in the process. The Inspired ability came from the original Theros block, and it rewards you for untapping your creatures. Unfortunately, most of these creatures are rather small, making them more safe to attack in a Smuggler's Copter than on the ground.
The first group of inspired creatures we have in our stable provide either card advantage or card quality. Pain Seer is a cousin of Dark Confidant, Siren of the Silent Song sets our opponents each back a card, and Sphinx's Disciple is straight draw. On the card quality side, Disciple of Deceit can trade a dead card for one much more suited to the current situation.
Just like King Macar, there are a few other inspired choices that can shift the balance of permanents on the board. Daring Thief can swap out a lowly Wood Elves or a late Arcane Signet for an opponent's big threat. Arbiter of the Ideal can net us more Vehicles and more pilots for each untap.
There are even a few creatures we can use that don't say "Inspired", but act just the same. Ghostly Pilferer just hit tables earlier this year and can net us cards each time it untaps. The same is true when we crew a Vehicle with Fallowsage. Additionally, we can stymie threats via Surgespanner.
Normally, the Inspired mechanic is too slow for the game. You have to cast the creature, then wait until your next turn to attack, then wait until it untaps. However, if we have Archelos, Lagoon Mystic in play and tapped, we can skip the first few steps. Or, if we have Amulet of Vigor in play, we can get the Inspired trigger right then and there. And we don't need to worry about other players because with Archelos tapped, they're moving at a Turtle's pace.
Amulet of Vigor is not the only hack this machine can run. Since we'll be crewing our Vehicles, Quest for Renewal will hit its four counters in no time. Or, we could also just slap Seedborn Muse into play. Either of these active means that we can crew our Vehicles over and over on each player's turn, not just our own, and get our Inspired triggers fours times as often.
Throne of the God-Pharaoh gives us incentive to tap every creature, even our crewed Vehicles, every turn, and Opposition can hinder the advances of our opponents' biggest threats. Fatestitcher and Tideforce Elemental provide ways to hit more Inspired triggers on one turn, or can help tap Archelos, should the need arise.
Throne of the God-Pharaoh marks one of our win conditions, but our primary focus is on a slower grind. For that, planeswalkers offer us some added routes to victory. Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas nets us card advantage, can turn a Vehicle into a creature for good, and has a killer finisher. Same for Tezzeret, Artifice Master, giving us a token that can help crew, drawing us cards, or hitting the ultimate under the ideal racing conditions. Archelos, Lagoon Mystic supports this strategy as hasty creatures are no threat to a naked planeswalker.
And obviously, we can just get our beatdown on with evasive Vehicles like Skysovereign, Consul Flagship or Aradara Express.
The Perfect Line
If you're looking for a deck that has a non-standard play pattern where tapping out is sometimes the best board state to have and where your sequencing might be counter to what you're used to, this is the deck for you. You might oversteer at the green flag, but you'll be rounding the turns like a pro with a little bit of practice. Turn your commander sideways at the right moments and speed on past the checkered flag while your opponents lag a few turns behind.
Sultai VehiclesView on Archidekt
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Depala, Pilot Exemplar might get the fastest laps in qualifying, but Archelos, Lagoon Mystic will catch up over the course of the race, and should have the gas to go the distance. Also, this was a first for the series: I actually wrote about a commander from the most recent set! Okay, there are, like, a billion new commanders in Commander Legends, so one of them was bound to be worth highlighting, but I'm still calling this a win. It's always fun to flip the script on how you normally do things, if only just to expand your horizons. But, for now, I have to drive off into the sunset.
Until next time, where I'll have another mind-bending brew for you!