One of the things that’s been exciting about Kaladesh is the prospect of playing around with Depala, Pilot Exemplar, the major “build around me” commander in the set. There are some cool old-school dwarves to break out, and an opportunity to get maximum value from the new vehicles Kaladesh offers. So, let’s play out how that would look, while we wait for the cards to enter full circulation; with one day left until release, at least we don’t have to wait long.

Dwarves Matter

First thing’s first; Depala, Pilot Exemplar can search up and pump dwarf creatures, so let’s go back and do some deep cuts on that creature type. I’m talking cards like Dwarven Demolition Team, where even if the “blow up a wall” thing has limited utility it will still be a dwarf capable of running a vehicle. I’ll probably also include Dwarven Warriors and Dwarven Nomads, even though their Goblin Tunneler effect is a bit of a nonbo with Depala, Pilot Exemplar’s force multiplier anthem. The pump which moves many of its compadres out of tunnel range makes the tunnelers more effective at crewing vehicles, so they retain utility in a Depala deck for longer than they would elsewhere.

Dwarven Thaumaturgists is another card which should be interesting to play. While those sorts of Twisted Image effects are occasionally bonkers, particularly against cards like Spellskite, occasionally they’re useless, so I don’t have a tremendous number of opportunities to run them in Commander. I tend to prefer cards with universal utility. But again, being a dwarf in a tribal deck where worst case they can animate a vehicle lets me play with a card I might otherwise be unable to justify.

Duergar Mine-Captain might be borderline in a typical Boros deck going wide, but it has extra utility in a vehicle deck. Since crew requires tapping your creatures to take full effect, an untap ability like the Mine-Captain’s lets you advance your vehicular assault and then multiply its effects further when you untap it to buff your attacking team. It also works well with another surefire addition: Dwarven Bloodboiler. For every two mana you can give a specific creature +2/+0 and give all attacking creatures +1/+0, whether or not you’re helping your own team. With that cute little combo you can make combat a nightmare for the whole table.

This is not to say all the dwarf creatures they’ve printed are bad; Duergar Hedge-Mage probably earns its inclusion no matter what, being the most useful card in the hedge-mage cycle. Being able to pop an artifact and an enchantment with a single Mulldrifter is major card advantage. Similarly, Dwarven Recruiter would likely make it into any tribal dwarf deck, what with recruiters being typically above the curve; in Depala, Pilot Exemplar, though, you get to draw many of those cards as soon as she taps. That’s pretty darn good.

Occasionally, as much as I hate to admit it, land destruction can come in handy in Commander. I won one game I had no right to win piloting The Gitrog Monster because I managed to stabilize behind a Glacial Chasm and my opponents had no way to destroy it. Dwarven Miner and Dwarven Blastminer are both cards I would hesitate to run in a typical Commander deck, since those tap abilities are slow and I don’t go out of my way to find land destruction, but in a Commander deck like the one based on Depala, Pilot Exemplar their dwarf subtype overcomes a fair bit of reticence and I think they both earn slots. Heck, the Blastminer even has morph, giving it some extra utility those occasions where you need a colorless creature that’s not also a vehicle. It’s a niche set of circumstances, but it’s still nice to have those outs in the rare situations where they’re relevant.

Then there are the borderline dwarves, the ones that will definitely only earn inclusion for their creature type. Still, even here a couple of them have expanded utility due to the deck’s split theme. For example, Duergar Cave-Guard is not a card I would ever expect to play in Commander, but that firebreathing combines really well with the crew mechanic. Duergar Cave-Guard can pilot anything on its own, so long as you have enough mana. Considering crew maxes out at five (so far), this does not seem like a particularly expensive proposition. And it’s an effective rattler to boot, thanks to wither. This is the card that probably has the most dramatic increase in utility, but even the two fabricate dwarves are better for the context.

Finally, there are non-dwarf dwarves to include: Changeling Berserker, Changeling Hero, Crib Swap, Taurean Mauler, Shields of Velis Vel, and Mirror Entity. Of those cards Shields of Velis Vel is the loosest, but I have some hopes that it may prove to be an unexpected blow out. At the very least, with Depala, Pilot Exemplar on the field it gives your non-dwarves an extra +1/+1 in addition to the +0/+1 granted by the effect; if vehicle turns out to be a creature type, as I suspect, it should also give all creatures you control an additional +1/+1 thanks to the way Depala is templated.

The Vehicles

Due to the nature of the deck, I plan on running every vehicle yet printed. There are ten total, half of which could probably earn their inclusion even in the absence of a thematic element. But the vehicles do suggest other cards. Since they’re artifact creatures, Tempered Steel seems like a potential addition, both to pump up the vehicles and to maximize the power of fabricate. Jor Kadeem, the Prevailer is another good addition, boosting power across your team to make it easier to turn on your vehicles and to make them more powerful once they are active. First strike solves several of the problems going in on otherwise-mediocre vehicles might solve.

Looking at the vehicles, I also find myself seriously considering Basilisk Collar. Both Skysovereign, Consul Flagship and Ballista Charger do damage as part of their attack trigger; while they struggle to take down big game alone, when they have deathtouch their pings become removal. Also pumped by the deathtouch addition? Fleetwheel Cruiser, Ovalchase Dragster, and Renegade Freighter. Deathtouch plus trample makes it very difficult for an opponent to meaningfully block. I don’t know if these synergies would be enough to make it worth bringing in something like Gorgon Flail, but Basilisk Collar is powerful enough on its own.

Miscellaneous Fill

Obviously, given that I am discussing focusing on two brand-new mechanics, I am going to have to go off-theme to fill some holes. Even then, though, I think there are some interesting synergies to explore. I am particularly interested in doing more with activated abilities using the untap symbol; cards like Hateflayer and Umbral Mantle replace a crew cost with a mana cost. Sword of the Paruns does the same thing, with the added benefit of an anthem effect. Thornbite Staff is also worth considering, an argument that gets stronger should I end up running Basilisk Collar.

This is also a deck that will gladly run Springleaf Drum, since it gives you another way to tap Depala, Pilot Exemplar without having to attack. Since we’re running the drum, it’s also worth looking at the inspired mechanic from the last time it was printed; most of those cards cost too much to be worth it, but Felhide Spiritbinder is cheap enough and powerful enough to argue for its inclusion.

For removal we can further these tap synergies with Collective Effort and Prismatic Strands, which can gain extra effect from tapping creatures. Rally the Righteous is also strong in this deck, although the radiance ability means it will never be useful for the vehicles themselves. Masako the Humorless helps mitigate the downside of having to tap your team to send your vehicles into the fray; even tapped, being able to block means you’re never shields down.

Then there’s power. I want to run Endbringer in this deck, because the card is bonkers, because I am probably going to be running some of the colorless-producing mana rocks, and because its ability to untap every untap step means it’s amazing at animating vehicles. I’m also considering Aurelia, the Warleader and Aggravated Assault, to maximize the utility of those crewed vehicles by giving multiple attacks. I considered World at War and Waves of Aggression and the like, but Aurelia and Aggravated Assault untap all your creatures, while most other versions of this effect only untap the creatures you attacked with. When you’re tapping creatures to animate vehicles, that’s a meaningful difference, and those two end up acting like a force multiplier beyond the base “you get a second attack” aspect of the card.


I didn’t come out of this with a list, mind you; much of my Commander build process involves laying out the physical cards, and Kaladesh is still just barely on the horizon. But believe me when I say I plan to start turning this sketch into a masterwork this weekend, and then I’ll get to see if the long wait for a dwarven commander has been worth it.

Jess Stirba is on a social media hiatus until further notice.

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