Ever since their introduction to Magic five years ago in Kaladesh, vehicles have been a small but relatively consistent part of Magic. Wizards overshot the runway a little bit to begin with – some were a little too good – but since then there haven’t been too many issues with vehicles and they’ve spawned some very cool and creative cards.
Today, we’re going to look at the top five vehicles that have been printed – a highly scientific ranking based on how sweet they are, how flavorful they are and of course how powerful they are. Let’s get underway!
I wasn’t around for the Weatherlight Saga, way back in the day, but I know this iconic ship and its legendary crew were a big part of Magic many years ago. The Weatherlight is represented on a ton of old cards – for instance, Cataclysm, Vindicate and Capsize. It even had its own card, before the Vehicle version came along in Dominaria – Skyship Weatherlight “crews” itself with cards from your deck that you can put into your hand at random.
The Vehicle, however, has an actual crew ability and a very powerful combat damage trigger – particularly for EDH, where the card sees the bulk of its play. In decks full of legends, Weatherlight hits hard, is difficult to block and fills up your hand with a powerful card selection ability. It had a quiet old time in competitive Constructed, never really making it in Standard, but it’s still a very cool homage to Magic’s past and some of the stories that unfolded all those years ago.
Dermotaxi has to be one of the weirdest cards I’ve ever seen. It took me awhile to recognize the joke in its name – “dermo-taxi” instead of “taxi-dermy” – but once that clicked into place, the pure, unadulterated genius of this card shone through. It’s an absolute masterpiece when it comes to representing flavor through gameplay – I can’t think of many better examples – and on top of that, the card is just so wonderfully strange.
A creature dies, and Dermotaxi… well, it taxidermizes it into a… taxi, I suppose? A taxi that gets driven by two other creatures – a driver and a passenger, as any taxi would have – to deliver a beatdown on the opponent. It’s the only Vehicle without a proper crew ability, but that doesn’t impinge on its stunningly resonant flavor as a vehicle card.
Now, is it any good? Perhaps not. It’s a weird reanimation enabler, sure, but requires a lot of setup for not very much payoff (creature in the graveyard plus Dermotaxi on the battlefield plus two other creatures to “crew” it), as you don’t even get any enters-the-battlefield effects the “reanimated” creature might have. But that’s not the point – this card is a flavor slam-dunk, and I love seeing stuff like this printed.
Esika’s Chariot is probably the most pushed Vehicle we’ve seen since we were in Kaladesh. It sees a good amount of play in Standard as an anti-aggro compromise card in Sultai Ultimatum, as it serves the role of a defensive four-drop that generates multiple blockers, while also being a decent card in other matchups as a snowballing threat.
The Chariot can also copy any token – a lot of people think it just poops out a 2/2 when it attacks, but that’s not the case. It can and does copy any token you have laying around, and when played in a deck alongside Kiora Bests the Sea God, the upside on an ability like this is very high indeed (especially as the first Kraken can, somehow, crew the chariot to create a second, even the turn it comes down!).
Esika’s Chariot may not leave a huge impact behind it once it departs Standard, true. But it remains one of the better Vehicles ever printed – most of them never really see much Constructed play – and for that alone, it’s good enough to make it on this list. Besides, just look at those majestic cats represented in the art.
Were it not for the final sentence in the rules text of this card, Heart of Kiran would be just another middling vehicle without much going for it. Sure, a vigilant 4/4 flyer is a nice beater (despite it being colorless rather than black/green), but a crew cost of three is prohibitively high. Removing a loyalty counter from a planeswalker, however – well, that changes everything.
Quite a few planeswalkers saw a decent amount of play back then, for example the powerful Chandra, Torch of Defiance. As a high-loyalty planeswalker, she was more than ready to leap aboard the ship that bore her father’s name and get involved, leaving any other creatures on the battlefield ready to attack as well rather than get tapped for the crewing ability.
Heart of Kiran was an integral part of the Mardu Vehicles deck that was so powerful back in 2017, although it never got so dominant and oppressive that it required a ban. It felt unfair, a lot of the time, to face of against a planeswalker and a Heart of Kiran ready to defend it, but it was never as bad as the Vehicle that finds itself at number one on our list.
I mentioned Wizards overshot the runway when it came to Vehicles – Smuggler’s Copter was absolutely busted in half, immediately dominating Standard more or less as soon as it was printed and requiring a ban within only a few months. The old looter scooter was banned in January 2017, less than four months after it was printed, because it was just that good.
No one knew how to evaluate Vehicles to begin with, but Smuggler’s Copter was very quickly identified as truly obnoxious. With a cheap mana cost and a trivial crew cost, its ability to get in for three in the air and make sure your hand always had action meant it quickly took over the format.
It was a similar story after the launch of Pioneer, as well. Pioneer was introduced in October 2019, and Smuggler’s Copter made it to December before getting hit, once again, with the ban hammer. It may not look that flashy, but Smuggler’s Copter has the perfect combination of utility, evasion and power – all at the bargain price of two generic mana. The card was too good and had to go – and while it has its die-hard fans even now, I don’t think many of us miss it all that much.
While Magic only has 37 Vehicles at the moment, that number is sure to rise as time goes on. I’m not sure that I want those towards the top of this list to be unseated any time soon, but after a bit of a false start, Wizards seems to have found the sweet spot for Vehicles and it’s cool to see them printed here and there in new sets, with cards like Enchanted Carriage or Colossal Plow playing with Vehicle design space. I’m interested to see what’s next!