Unstable Mutation: Buckle Up!

There’s a lot of hype and excitement about this deck, I think there is a huge amount of crossover with anime and pilots and mechs and things. Looking in the rearview, I’m not sure how that fits into Magic’s usual backstory of sort of vaguely high medieval worlds, but, I have seen Power Rangers, Thunder Cats, a bit of Voltron, and also even Rick and Morty mocking all of that. Obviously, the idea of a giant robot, made up of smaller robots, Voltron-ing up together to form that one, mega-robot looms up like a cool monument, worth a road trip out to visit.

Is this that deck?

In Magic, the term Voltron in the straight lane usually refers to powering up one big creature, typically your Commander, and straight-up killing your opponents with it.

I’ve written before about how it’s not a good strategy – it’s enormously threatening, in a Sword of Damocles sort of way, while not being all that dangerous, and it’s really an old three-on-the-tree way of doing things. Sans extra combats or extra turns, you’re talking about going hell for leather and killing one person, then having to wait past 2 people’s turns to kill the next. Also you’ve just demonstrated to each of those people that all roads lead to Rome, and means you killing them off one by one, one of them on your next turn, so they better either win the game, or make you pump the brakes. It also typically relies on piling several cards onto one creature, which is vulnerable to a blowout. You can make that creature hexproof or shrouded, in which case it’s much harder to deal with but even the best tint can be seen through, and effects like Wrath of God and Pestilence don’t target. You can make the creature indestructible, and it will survive all of that, but you can still be forced to sacrifice it. And if you invest all that time and energy in making an unstoppable killing machine, your opponents might just win the game and make you stop on a dime, and the whole endeavor becomes a waste of time.

So what to do? There’s a couple tricks to get around these, going from 0-60 and killing helps (often referred to as one punch) or you can use extra turns or combats and kill everyone at one go, or you can use tricks like Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar and Infect to kill all three opponents at once.

The thing is, as not good as Voltron is, it’s cool. It’s kind of classy – like an old muscle car.  It hearkens back to the origins of Commander, aka Elder Dragon Highlander. It’s reminiscent of Dragonball Z, backing way up to run forward and punch even harder. You just have to get your power level over 9000.

Obviously, a lot of the hype has to do with the card that isn’t even in this deck that was released in Kamigawa – Mechtitan Core. It’s functionally a literal Voltron, and I’ll be revisiting that card and a whole deck around it, later in another article.

For now let’s talk about what Buckle Up does, out of the box:

It’s basically a bit of slow ramp with vehicles and artifacts, some card selection and draw based on artifact casting. The putative commander gives all your vehicles crew 2, but of the vehicles in the deck 4 already have crew 4, so there’s not a lot of advantage there. There’s also not a lot of payoff for hitting your opponents. Blue offers a variety of card draws for dealing combat damage, and this deck isn’t running them. It’s also not running many ways to ramp up the damage, so it’s going to take quite a while to deal 120 damage. There’s basically no countermagic, and a little bit of creature control, there’s also a decent amount of recursion. Very little ability to deal with enchantments or other artifacts that hit the board unless they are creatures.

To rebuild the deck is sort of like rebuilding an engine, we want a more coherent plan and a power source that matches our chassis and targets a specific kind of race. Vehicles are the theme of the starter, so we might as well stick with that. Vehicles to do combat damage and gain value, with a payoff in the form of additional cards drawn.

First of all, if we want to run a commander who makes all vehicles only crew 2, we’d run really big vehicles and colorless ramp to rush out fat vehicles and swing with them. I’m not really into that, in part because the best way I can think of to do it involves a card that costs like 2,000 and getting it delivered every game (Mishra’s Workshop), but that’s a lot, especially since Mishra’s Workshop doesn’t really cost $2,000, there just hasn’t been one sold in such a long time that was like, the last price (I owned at least 4 at one point in my life).

The other path is to swap up the commanders and use Shirokai, Genesis Engine. The Genesis Engine’s ability is a really nice value ability – generate token creatures who pilot at +2 power, and also a draw two, discard one trigger. In my opinion value commanders like this are often really good because they don’t empower something so dangerous they have to be blown up, and they aren’t a real linchpin of your deck, just a synergistic piece.

We want plenty of ramp, so we can use Shirokai’s ability as well as pump-out vehicles. We can either go wide or try to kill with commander damage. The commander damage route is a bit risky since it will turn into Shirokai getting blown up, though getting from 8 to 21 only requires +3 power and double strike.

Vehicle piracy ought to ramp pretty aggressively, draw cards off the passive triggers which either draw when you cast artifacts or a few other triggers, and involve some discard triggers, but there is a heavy suite of reanimator abilities, so we can grab those discarded cards back. It can get a bit tricky, as some of the reanimators or return to hand abilities only target creatures, which vehicles are not until they are crewed. However, the suite of Replenish-esque cards that target artifacts will work well.

Stashing these cards in your graveyard is fine too though, as you have access to several full-on restoration spells, which rely on you ramping quite a bit to pay their massive mana values, so

never stop

Given you’ll be generating pilots as you go, a go-to tutor target will be Skullclamp. If you need card draw you can combine it with Shirokai’s ability to draw 4 cards for 2 mana and discarding one, stashing cards you want to reanimate later in your yard.

To finish out, Tempered Steel and Forsaken Monument ought to give your creatures enough oomph that they can just run over your opponents.