During the last weeks, Explorer has seen many Pioneer decks land into the format thanks to Explorer Anthology 2 and cards like Brave the Elements, Shaman of the Pack, or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx that enable certain archetypes to compete against the preexisting Tier 1 decks. This type of card tends to be so crucial and impactful that thinking about Mono White or Elves without them seems nearly impossible.
Like these cards, there is one also released for MTG Arena in Explorer Anthology 2 whose flexibility lets us include it in many different decks, enabling a lot of strong interactions.
Mutavault is a land that has seen a lot of competitive play since M14, and nowadays is no exception, and there is a deck besides Mono White Aggro/Humans that is a perfect place to use this man-land to its fullest potential – Gruul Vehicles, also called Gruul Boat, This is a deck that appeared not so long ago, but since its first good results in Pioneer, it started rising in popularity as the best aggressive midrange deck in both Pioneer and Explorer alike.
There are many good reasons for this, but before explaining further the strengths of this deck, let me share with you the list I’m using right in MTGA:
I’ve been working with many different lists of this archetype, but without a doubt, Izumi Kento’s lists stands above every other iteration of the deck. The unified Japanese and Korean Regional Championship was an extremely big and competitive event. 776 players battled on the Player Convention Open, a parallel tournament to the Regional Championship (where Gruul also claimed 2 spots in the top 16th), and Izumi managed to finish in 5th place after 2 days and 13 rounds of fierce competition.
Before anything else, let’s explain the main idea behind this deck core:
The interaction between Reckless Stormseeker and this pair of vehicles is the main reason the deck exists and that it can be differentiated from other Gruul variants.What regulates how good vehicles can be is how fast they can impact the game. On many occasions, being slow makes vehicles fall behind. Summoning sickness and crew, in combination, are responsible for this. However, Reckless Stormseeker functions like a turbo engine for vehicles making Esika's Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship exert pressure sooner than they should, forcing our opponents to respond or lose before turn five. Here is how it works:
- Play Elvish Mystic or Llanowar Elves.
- Use any of these mana dorks to accelerate Reckless Stormseeker during turn two.
- Play Esika's Chariot on turn three. You can crew Chariot with
Reckless Storm Seekerand one of the Cat tokens Chariot creates then, at the beginning of combat use Stormseeker’s ability to give Esika's Chariot +1/+0 and haste and attack with it.
- This will make us have a field of 1 mana dork,
Reckless Storm Seeker, Esika's Chariot, and 3 2/2 Cat tokens on turn three.
This could easily end any game on turn four on its own, but if it’s not enough, playing Skysovereign, Consul Flagship turn four and giving it +1/+0, and haste with Reckless Stormseeker should be enough against almost any opponent.
The main differentiator between Izumi’s list and any other iteration of the archetype is the four The Akroan War in the main deck.
Some players don’t play this card in Gruul Vehicles, and some new variants are trying just two copies, but Izumi went for the full set of this red saga. While I can see reasons not to play this, let me tell you, it’s definitely a game-changer – especially when we are going to face a lot of Mono Green Devotion.
Gruul decks often don’t have efficient answers to large creatures like Cavalier of Thorns or Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, but with The Akroan War, we can steal these creatures and keep the aggression on. This is a simple way to explain the utility of this enchantment, but we must look further to understand why it’s so important for the archetype. When creatures you steal have a power greater than or equal to their toughness, or they have deathtouch like Sheoldred, if you crew a vehicle with it on our upkeep to tap it, we can let it get killed by the third chapter’s trigger. Also, if any creature we steal dies under our control, we are going to get the death triggers such as letting Old-Growth Troll attach to our own Forest.
These are just some examples of how good this card could be in some scenarios against two of the stronger decks, but against many other matches, The Akroan War keeps shining game after game. It’s fantastic against a creature matchup like Mono White and helps us a lot against big blockers present in other decks like any creature in Niv-Mizzet Reborn or Fires of Invention builds. Four copies can seem like too much, but trust me, against the current state of the meta, this is the way the deck should be played.
The rest of the deck is cards that tie everything together. Bonecrusher Giant and Lovestruck Beast are fantastic for this build. Both crew our vehicles by themselves, attack as hard as we would want, and provide us with options. Stomp makes Bonecrusher a card we are always glad to draw and Lovestruck Beast can attack or block without a problem the majority of the time thanks to how Elvish Mystic and Llanowar Elves are 1/1, making the 1/1 Human token not the only enabler for this beast noble.
Scavenging Ooze is not a card everybody plays in this archetype, however, as one of the best two-drops in the history of the game, not having a pair of them in our main deck when the metagame has graveyard matters archetypes such as Greasefang, Okiba Boss, and other cards like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger or Cavalier of Thorns around, makes playing it always seems right.
Finally, rounding out our main deck, the list plays three Obliterating Bolt. Since its release, this card has been positioned as the best spot removal for Mono Red and Gruul Decks, surpassing cards like Lava Coil, or Roast. I think that, without a doubt, this card is going to be around for a long time.
We can’t pass to the next section without mentioning our man-lands. Just like we mentioned before, this archetype uses Mutavault in very efficient ways, and the same goes for Lair of the Hydra. We can use these lands to crew our vehicles, Lair is also good for enabling Lovestruck Beast, and in combination with Esika's Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, makes our deck very resilient against board wipes.
A pretty solid set of cards that can beat any Tier 1 deck. This deck makes me think that it’s the best midrange strategy in the metagame. The best part of it is that the archetype is still evolving, and thanks to its latest good results, this deck is coming back into the spotlight and more and more people are realizing its existence, experimenting with it and coming up with new ideas.
Potential Inclusions / Notable Exclusions
- Werewolf Pack Leader was an ever-present card during the last rotation of Standard, making Mono Green a force to be reckoned with. Here, thanks to our more flexible mana base, many players are experimenting with it. It can let us curve aggressively and consistently, even without mana dorks. However, if we play this, we can’t play Jegantha, the Wellspring which feels like too major a loss.
- Both Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Chandra, Awakened Inferno are good sideboard options. Four mana Chandra shines against other midrange decks while big Chandra can win against UW Control single-handedly.
- The same goes for Klothys, God of Destiny. It’s too good as a card to not have it in consideration depending on the state of the meta. A turn 2 Klothys can win many games against a wide variety of decks.
- Some players prefer Outland Liberator as an option against artifacts and enchantments instead of Cindervines. I prefer the enchantment thanks to how it can put spell-matter decks against the wall while being a static Destructive Revelry that costs 3, but can be paid deferred.
- Definitely, one of the cards that a lot of Gruul players are forcing into this archetype is Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, and that is for a good reason. It’s one of the stronger cards printed in the last years, and its consistency and flexibility are something that some Tier 1 decks like Rakdos can’t ignore. However, as much as I can try to sneak this card into the deck, the list feels more aggressive without it. If we are going to make some cuts, I prefer to include Werewolf Pack Leader instead of playing Fable; this is to keep the deck under the idea of closing the games before turn five.
- Other good vehicles such as Reckoner Bankbuster can be taken into consideration. Nevertheless, this deck likes to play vehicles that impact the game the moment they are entering the battlefield. Playing 1 copy if the meta goes to grindy or UW heavy seems like an option. Surgehacker Mech seems also viable against heavy Mono White environments.
- Hazoret the Fervent is one of the latest innovations in Pioneer against Izzet Phoenix and Rakdos Midrange. Izzet Phoenix is not really a deck in Explorer, but surely can be one soon when Shadows Over Innistrad Remaster arrives at MTG Arena, and Rakdos is always around. Playing this against both archetypes helps a lot.
|+2 Shapers' Sanctuary||-1 Elvish Mystic|
|+1 Arlinn, the Pack's Hope||-1 Llanowar Elves|
|-1 Bonecrusher Giant|
We are a midrange deck, but in this match, we are the aggressors and we have to play properly. Siding out Reckless Stormseeker seems like taking this deck’s heart out, even if it may make some sense, as I prefer to keep the red werewolf and the vehicles in almost any scenario. Besides this, the truth is that the game is probably going to be decided in later turns.
I prefer to play two Shapers' Sanctuary instead of two mana dorks, keeping our curve consistent, but having a card that can let us have enough gas for fighting during the mid-game. Just because of this, playing Arlinn as an extra Chariot (she can create two 2/2 tokens using her -3 ability) instead of other Planeswalkers helps us keep the pressure up and have enough bodies on the battlefield to keep our vehicles pushing our opponents’ life total.
Mono Green Devotion
The idea behind sideboarding Embercleave is the fact that we have to end this match as soon as possible. Mono Green being a deck that practically doesn’t play any removal spells, swinging with all we got making Embercleave cheap and letting us push damage is not hard.
With this in mind, we have to mulligan aggressively when needed. Curving a mana dork into any of our three drops into Esika's Chariot / Embercleave / The Akroan War should be enough. Don’t hesitate to mulligan to try and find the best possible hand against them as they can punish you the longer the game gets.
Mono White Humans
Mono White is probably the best aggro deck out there, and The Akroan War is devastating against it. As a midrange deck, we can outscale Mono White without much trouble.
We have efficient removal for their early game with Bonecrusher Giant and Obliterating Bolt. With Rending Volley after game one, removing bigger creatures like Adeline, Resplendent Cathar or any creature with a lot of +1/+1 tokens like Hopeful Initiate or Thalia's Lieutenant is not a problem either. Finally, Skysovereign, Consul Flagship can easily win the game on its own.
|+3 Rending Volley||-4 The Akroan War|
|+2 Cindervines||-3 Obliterating Bolt|
|+1 Scavenging Ooze||-1 Bonecrusher Giant|
|+2 Unlicensed Hearse|
Greasefang, Okiba Boss needs immediate answers. Having this in consideration, Obliterating Bolt is not very useful here. The same happens with Bonecrusher Giant. Stomp can kill small creatures, but it can’t kill Greasefang or Parhelion II.
On the other hand, Rending Volley can kill The Okiba Boss for one mana at instant speed, which is exactly what we need.
Scavenging Ooze makes game one much more manageable. Adding a third copy helps for games two and three, and with the support of Unlicensed Hearse, it would be very hard for Greasefang to cheat any Parhelion II into the battlefield.
Cindervines is a very good card against spell-matter decks, but having a “safety button” here could make Greasefang’s life impossible. We should remember that Cindervines not only pings our opponents whenever they play instants or sorceries, but it also serves as a static Destructive Revelry.
Tips and Tricks
- We have many enablers for Lovestruck Beast in our deck. Llanowar Elves and Elvish Mystic are good for this, but the ultimate trick for enabling Lovestruck Beast is transforming Lair of the Hydra into a 1/1. Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, and Den of the Bugbear also make 1/1 creatures.
- Always have in mind the central idea of the deck. Reckless Stormseeker giving haste to Esika's Chariot and Skysovereign, Consul Flagship is something that lets us exert a lot of pressure. Speaking of this, remember that Esika's Chariot creates two 2/2 Cat tokens, letting us crew it the same turn it comes into play. With Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, we have to remember that we are going to have two triggers if we gave haste to it, so we can aim two three damage shots to different targets or deal 6 damage to a big threat.
- Obliterating Bolt exiles its target. This is relevant for creatures like Tenacious Underdog, or even finishing a Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger after combat during our turn. This is also helpful against Greasefang, Okiba Boss during game one to avoid Can't Stay Away from reviving Greasefang.
- The Akroan War trick: Don’t forget to crew one of our vehicles with the creature we steal when the third chapter triggers. This would tap the creature, making it receive damage and killing it during the resolution.
A long time has passed since the last time Gruul took the spotlight as one of the best midrange decks in an Eternal format. Gruul Vehicles, A.K.A. Gruul Boat, is a deck with a fair plan, something that can make people think that unfair decks like Greasefang can go over us. However, we play fast and have a very consistent game plan that can win quickly against anyone or grind even the harder attrition matches in the format.
Gruul Vehicles is a very good deck right now. Having good matches against Rakdos Midrange and Mono Green Devotion makes it one of the top choices right now when someone wants to play midrange, and the cherry on the top, The Akroan War destroys any creature match like Mono White Aggro.
If you give this deck a chance, let me know what you think about it in the comment section below and in my social media (links below). Happy new year, everyone! And remember, share a smile with someone during your day; it will surely make a difference.