Back on Monday, December 4, there was a huge ban announcement affecting multiple formats. In Modern, Fury bit the dust, finally weakening the Rakdos Scam menace that has only gotten more popular since Pro Tour Barcelona. Up the Beanstalk followed suit, as it gave multi-color Leyline Binding decks an absurd source of card advantage.
In Pioneer, Geological Appraiser and Karn, the Great Creator were banned, weakening Discover combo and mono-green Devotion a fair bit.
Pioneer, however, also saw a very powerful card unbanned: Smuggler’s Copter. Smuggler’s Copter is an incredible two-drop Vehicle. Only needing one-power worth of Creatures to crew it is strong, and it’s large and evasive to boot. If that weren’t enough, it even provides you with the ability to loot, letting you draw fresh cards and pitch ones you don’t need. There was never a doubt that the card was good, but the idea behind unbanning it was that it could help open the door for new strategies.
The reality is, there have been tons of elite cards added to the format since it was originally banned. This includes cards like Temporary Lockdown that act as clean answer to it. It was unbanned in the hopes that it would be good, but not too good. Well, Smuggler’s Copter is now legal on Magic Online, and we are already seeing it have an enormous impact in Pioneer. Tons of different strategies are implementing the Artifact into their gameplans, showcasing its true power.
Copter in Rakdos Variants
When Copter was unbanned, the original sentiment was that this would help create some unique deckbuilding decisions. The thing is, Copter doesn’t ask much of you. As a colorless Artifact with Crew 1, it only asks that you play some Creatures in your deck. We are starting to see just how homogenous Copter is as it is overperforming in both Rakdos midrange and Rakdos sacrifice. In Rakdos midrange, the entire core of the deck has remained in-tact.
Between two Magic Online Pioneer Preliminary events, four players went 3-1 or 4-0 with Rakdos midrange. All four players were playing Copter, and in general, Copter was simply replacing some flex slots. Part of what makes Copter so strong for this archetype is that, just like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, you have the opportunity to loot away excess Lands. One of Rakdos’s weaknesses is drawing extra Lands and copies of Thoughtseize late in the game, and Copter further reduces this issue. You also get to discard copies of Fatal Push against decks like Azorius control that have a minimal number of targets and convert them into necessary resources.
In Rakdos sacrifice, Copter does all of this and more. By adding Witch’s Oven and Cauldron Familiar into the mix, you can essentially guarantee that you can continue to crew Copter every turn. As good as Copter is, it’s still a Vehicle, meaning if your opponent removes your Creatures that can Crew it, it doesn’t have much of an effect. Cauldron Familiar keeps coming back from the graveyard, ensuring that Copter is ready to attack at will. Copter adds a ton of extra pressure in a deck with a typically slow clock, which helps a ton in a variety of matchups.
As good as Copter is in attrition focused Rakdos decks, it excels in decks that specifically care about Vehicles. The most obvious of these archetypes is Greasefang, Okiba Boss combo. Greasefang presents a very fast clock with Parhelion II in the graveyard. However, there are a few necessary keys to success to help make this combo as consistent as possible. The first is to have enough ways to get Parhelion II and other Vehicles into your graveyard. The second is to have a reasonable backup plan if your opponent can answer your Greasefang or presents graveyard hate.
Up to this point, the best Greasefang shell has been Abzan. Abzan checks both boxes above. Cards like Grisly Salvage help dig for Greasefang while also fueling your graveyard. Meanwhile, Esika’s Chariot is a strong card even when cast normally, giving the deck a much better shot at beating opposing copies of Rending Volley. With Copter in the mix now, though, the door has opened for other Greasefang variants to pop up.
Mardu Greasefang, for instance, had a solid performance in a Magic Online Preliminary event. Not only is Copter a great discard outlet for Parhelion II, but it can help you win games in a traditional fashion and works well with Greasefang all the same. Copter’s existence puts less of an emphasis on having to play green for Chariot, so it’ll be interesting to see what Greasefang builds become most popular.
While less Vehicle-centric than Greasefang, Gruul midrange typically plays some Vehicles like Chariot alongside The Akroan War. With The Akroan War, you can steal an opposing Creature. Then, when you get to the last chapter, you can respond by Crewing one of your Vehicles, thereby tapping that Creature and resulting in it taking a bunch of damage. Copter is excellent in Gruul. With Crew 1, your mana dorks can Crew it. Simultaneously, Copter helps you get rid of mana dorks drawn later in the game to find more potent spells.
Is Smuggler’s Copter Too Strong?
It’ll be interesting to monitor Copter’s usage in Pioneer moving forward. Obviously, there’s plenty of time for the format to adapt. Both Temporary Lockdown and Portable Hole give Azorius control decks solid answers to it. Meanwhile, Rakdos decks have Fatal Push and Izzet Phoenix has Fiery Impulse. There are lots of answers to Copter in the format, but unfortunately, that’s not exactly where the issue with the card lies.
Part of the reason Copter was banned in the first place was because it was extremely homogenous. Any deck with Creatures could play it and reap the rewards. As the tweet above shows, the hope when unbanning it was to create more deckbuilding puzzles and ultimately promote diversity. For the time being, though, most players are simply shoving Copter into a multitude of well-established shells and benefitting.
Not to mention, a common complaint with Pioneer for quite some time has been how its linear nature puts added pressure on who wins the die roll at the beginning of the game. Mono-green Devotion and Discover combo, two decks negatively affected by the ban announcement, definitely contributed further to this issue. The thing is, Copter is quite likely to do the same. Copter is much more reliable when you are on the front foot and can make games where your opponent draws Copter and you don’t feel bad.
It’s quite unlikely that Copter goes the route of Gogari Grave-Troll and gets banned again, but it’s not impossible, especially if Copter keeps up this absurd play rate and dominance. I’m excited to see how players try to adapt over the coming weeks.