I’ve always loved long drives, though I admit to being pretty picky about the music/audiobook/podcast selection, the temperature, having access to water at all times and so on. With that in mind, I’m excited to turn the keys on the $50 upgrade for the second Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty preconstructed Commander deck, Buckle Up. As always, I’d like to remind you of a couple of things regarding my budget articles:
- $50 has a different impact on different people, but given that it’s less than the price of a triple-A console game release, I think it’s a price many will be willing to pay for hours of entertainment, which a Commander deck should provide.
- I’ll be using prices from the ChannelFireball Marketplace to track our costs, specifically the lowest available Near Mint price at the time of this writing. I apologize if listings have changed since then, but that’s just part and parcel of a budget article.
Buckle Up is a blue/white Vehicles deck featuring Kotori, Pilot Prodigy as the commander. While I might prefer to swap Shorikai, Genesis Engine in as the commander myself, we don’t do that in this series – instead, we try to maximize the value of the headliner that’s been preassigned.
Here’s the deck as it exists right out of the box:
Buckle Up Precon
I’d like to up the Vehicle count a little, add some more draw spells and utility and increase the artifact count as well. The average mana value of 3.32 among nonlands is fine with me, so I’ll try to keep things right at that level. I honestly really like the list as-is for a precon, and I had some trouble when thinking about ways to upgrade it, especially regarding what should be cut. That said, I did manage to cut a total of 25 cards, seven of those being basic lands. Let’s take a look at the ten creatures that are hitting the sidelines today!
This was a hard call, but I think the deck needs higher threat density, and that means both Vehicles and creatures that are good at crewing Vehicles. These creatures have too much tension with the crew mechanic, and it’s also frustrating to lose your mana rocks to an early wrath just because someone else was being too aggressive. We’ll live with some cost reducers and other ramp.
I have two much stronger ways to protect our artifacts that still work even if we don’t have metalcraft.
I’m not trying to get the artifact count so high that this card is going to be huge, nor am I trying to go wide with Myr and Servo tokens necessarily. That leaves this feeling a little bit unimpressive on both of its relevant axes.
I understand wanting to use the unblockable ability here, but I think we can do better in terms of cards that make it easy for us to want to attack.
I don’t think either of these are the sources of recursion we want in this deck. Teshar doesn’t help us when we’re dry on resources, meaning we’d likely rather have better draw power, and Ironsoul Enforcer shouldn’t be attacking alone. Kotori certainly shouldn’t be attacking pretty much ever.
Neither of these high-end artifact creatures really feel like they fit. Cataclysmic Gearhulk forces us to pare down our Jay Leno-style garage of Vehicles, which is not something we really want to make ourselves do, and Kappa Cannoneer would be much more useful in a list focused on artifact tokens.
We’re actually going down two creatures, but don’t worry – I’ll make sure we have plenty of ways to continue to crew our Vehicles. Here’s what gets added:
|Hotshot Mechanic (NEO)||Giant Ox (KHM)|
Both of these creatures crew well above their weight class, especially given their mana cost. I know Kotori means our Vehicles are theoretically very easy to crew, but if you plan for your commander to be on the battlefield all the time, well, you have to either build your deck very heavily to protect them or simply prepare to be disappointed.
|Rebbec, Architect of Ascension (CMR)||Padeem, Consul of Innovation (KLD)|
With a solid set of mana values across the deck, it’s easy to see how Rebbec helps keep our Vehicles protected from removal spells and makes them a little harder to handle in combat. The effect is a bit of a nonbo with Kotori, but I’m willing to lose a little equity in order to stay on the board. Padeem provides the more flexible hexproof while also being a source of card draw. Spoiler alert: we’re not cutting Parhelion II, because if you can’t play it in your vehicles deck, where can you play it?
|Thought Monitor (MH2)||Shimmer Dragon (ELD)||Losheel, Clockwork Scholar (C21)||Vedalken Archmage (JST)|
And here we have some additional card draw options. Vedalken Archmage can’t help crew Vehicles, but it’s a fantastic piece of our engine, and the rest can help us find new cars and drive them. Losheel may be worse at helping us draw car(d)s, but being able to attack with impunity is more powerful than it may seem on the surface. How many cards is that effect worth? How much mana? It’s hard to say, and while it’s only useful when you’re in position to crew vehicles, that’s the whole point of the deck.
We’ve now spent $11.39 on those eight creatures, so let’s move on to the noncreature spells. We have six cuts:
I’m just not impressed with this vehicle. It’s not Kaldheim’s best vehicular offering, and if you’ve ever been dissatisfied with Explorer’s Scope, well, you know why I’m off this.
This deck is not going to have a ton of time to hold up lots of mana. We are going to be casting creatures and Vehicles, drawing cards and then casting more creatures and Vehicles when the hammer comes down in the form of wraths and/or removal. I understand the impetus to play versions of these effects that make tokens we can then use to crew vehicles, but I think playing more focused cards is likely to result in better outcomes. That said, I’m going to find a home for Access Denied. It’s such a cool card.
I like Jace, and I appreciate the card’s general value when you’re likely not leaving up a huge defensive force, but I want to put a different planeswalker in this deck that plays better with our themes.
The situation where you have four Vehicles and just need to rip this to alpha strike is a great story, but it won’t come up nearly as often as you want it to. That said, it pains me to cut a good story generator, and it might be a philosophical error to remove this.
This deck has a ton of interaction, and I think we need more cards that live on the board instead. Dispatch is the piece of removal most likely to rot in our hand, so out it goes.
We’re shoring things up with eight noncreature spells today to cover the imbalance we saw earlier.
|Untethered Express (AER)||Reckoner Bankbuster (NEO)||Mechtitan Core (NEO)|
Untethered Express is such a fantastically flavorful design – the train is off the tracks, and the situation just gets worse and worse every turn. Crew 1 is easy to handle, and a 5/5 trample to start with is nothing to scoff at. Reckoner Bankbuster isn’t the best Vehicle given the crew 3, but being able to sink some mana into it and draw cards makes it a solid early drop. Mechtitan Core… well, if I don’t put this in a Vehicle deck, I’m not having as much fun as I want to.
|Tezzeret, Betrayer of Flesh (NEO)||Born to Drive (NEO)|
Tezzeret is the right planeswalker for this job. We have a high artifact count – by the end of this article, the list will have 35 artifacts, making the mini-Thirst for Knowledge an easy win. Obviously animating artifacts is the big draw, with the static ability being very much a secondary consideration. The ultimate won’t win you the game outright, though if players are leaving Tezzeret uncontested, it may be worth looking toward it. Born to Drive is going to be played mostly for the channel ability here – just as in Limited, I think the two Pilots is the mode you’ll want more often.
|Soul-Guide Lantern (THB)||Wayfarer’s Bauble (The List)|
Cheap artifacts that give us access to powerful utility effects, you say? Yes, that’s what we want.
|Reality Heist (NEO)|
As usual with this kind of card, I want to talk about potential outcomes. We have 35 artifacts in our deck, which means that, in our statistical vacuum where we consider the 98 other cards to be our library when this is cast somehow, we have a 78.2 percent chance to see at least two artifacts when we cast this and a 95.8 percent chance to see at least one. Those odds are good enough for me, especially given that we should be able to get this on the cheap.
We’re now up to $23.32 spent, so let’s go ahead and pump some money into the mana base. I’m cutting three Islands, four Plains, and these two nonbasics:
Exotic Orchard makes little sense to me in a two-color deck, though it is a great land for new players to have in their collections, and Skycloud Expanse belongs to a cycle I do not appreciate due to its inflexibility.
Who’s ready to spend almost $26 on land? Me, that’s who.
|Glacial Fortress (XLN)||Deserted Beach (MID)||Hallowed Fountain (RTR)|
|Buried Ruin (JST)||Ghost Quarter (ISD)||Scavenger Grounds (C20)|
And here are those utility lands! Ghost Quarter and Scavenger Grounds show up in a lot of my decks as low-cost ways to interact, and Buried Ruin is great in any artifact-heavy deck looking for a land that serves as a reasonable topdeck late.
|Seat of the Synod (DDF)||Ancient Den (The List)||Otawara, Soaring City (NEO)|
I’m adding some extra artifacts here to help out our cards that care specifically about the type. Finally, we throw in Otawara, because it’s a great card to own and a fantastic way to leverage a land spot. Unless you’re dangerously low on basics and worried about being unable to fetch some up with your Rampant Growths and such, it’s hard not to want to include the new legendary lands whenever you can, even ones like Eiganjo that don’t seem quite as powerful at first glance. In this case, though, our budget leaves us without room for Eiganjo.
Okay! Now that we’ve spent a total of $49.31, let’s take a look at the new deck list. The artifact and Vehicle counts are up, and the average mana value ignoring lands has stayed basically the same – we went from 3.32 to 3.31, which is totally fine. Next week I’ll be back to brewing with some of the other new legends!
Buckle Up Upgraded by Eric Levine