Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. No Ban List Modern and even Vintage have a certain allure to many players, myself included, as they promise the opportunity to play with the best cards ever. In Yu-gi-Oh, I spend most of my time playing Traditional Format, the unpopular Vintage analog wherein banned cards are restricted. And even today, I swear by a shell of the infamous Colorless Eldrazi Stompy deck that ruined Modern.
When Wizards banned Emrakul, the Promised End from Standard, I sleeved up my old Lili Traverse deck to take the 13/13 for another joy ride. It was only a matter of time before I tried my hand at brewing with Smuggler's Copter, another card recently banned from Standard, in Modern. This article explores both existing homes for the Copter and the prospect of building decks around it.
Finding a Home
The first place to start when breaking a card into Modern is to check if it easily slots into existing archetypes. Smuggler's Copter works best in decks that benefit greatly from a recurring loot effect, don't play many other artifacts, and have no shortage of small bodies to pilot it.
Perhaps the most obvious deck for Copter is UB Faeries. Spellstutter Sprite works exceptionally well with the vehicle, protecting Copter from Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push as well as crewing it herself. For its part, Bitterblossom ensures a constant stream of drivers. Copter's loot effect helps Faeries find the right specific answers at the right time, burn through late-game copies of Ancestral Vision, and pressure faster decks like Tron with something other than 1/1s. Some research showed me that Copter in Faeries was already sort of a thing, and with Fatal Push's admittance into Modern, I think this deck truly has some legs (wings?).
Lingering Souls also pairs happily with Smuggler's Copter. The sorcery produces four willing pilots, and Copter can dump extra Souls straight to the graveyard. I had to brew a silly Esper deck with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound and a couple Heart of Kiran before realizing a powerful Lingering Souls deck already exists in Modern: Abzan Midrange!
Even if Copter dies in Abzan, its artifact type buffs Tarmogoyf and Grim Flayer. Copter also gives Abzan a way to beat evasively without sleeving up the pricey Siege Rhino. Archetype posterchild Wily Edel and others have already weaved the vehicle into their Abzan lists, and I can see the trend continuing into the future, especially if flying becomes more relevant.
One deck that has yet to employ Smuggler's Copter, but which I believe would benefit from some copies, is Death & Taxes. Hatebear strategies suffer from Thalia, Guardian of Thraben's irrelevance on some board states, and her old college roommate Thraben Inspector seems tailor-made to crew the vehicle. Cycling through doubles of legendary creatures or spare Aether Vials also seems great here.
Copter in Eldrazi Stompy
Noticing Copter's success in some Colorless Eldrazi Stompy lists from Legacy got me pondering the card's viability in my Modern version of the deck. The more I marinated on the concept, the more I liked it.
Smuggler's Copter offers Eldrazi Stompy a host of intriguing micro-synergies. Besides simply digging for key cards, here's some of the magic the vehicle can work:
- Allow Blinkmoth Nexus, Mutavault, and lonely Mimics to apply significant pressure, break through ground stalls, and dig us into business.
- Compensate for the unfortunate Scourge-Chalice interaction, which lets opponents use dead Bolts and Paths as Unsummons; we can crew Copter with Scourge before attacks, guaranteeing a hit for three.
- Wall 2/1 fliers and trade with three-power ones, previously a blind spot for Eldrazi Stompy and the primary reason for a full set of Blinkmoth.
- Immediately kill Liliana of the Veil or Nahiri, the Harbinger after they resolve and remove our single creature.
- Be very difficult to actually remove with a Chalice on the board, and impossible to nab at parity, while diverting Terminates and Malestrom Pulses away from more impactful threats like Reality Smasher.
- Loot through dead copies of Chalice of the Void or clunky Serum Powders.
- Prevent us from "hand-flooding" on lands so we can keep Sea Gate Wreckage active.
- Combine with Relic of Progenitus and Eternal Scourge in post-board games to create an incidental card advantage engine.
On to the decklist, which has changed a bit since last time around. The Dredge nerf again makes Chalice plus Guide clear favorites over mainboard Relics, and Fatal Push's introduction to Modern has led me to drop Endless One from the core. I also prefer 23 lands to 24 with Guides in the deck. That gives the deck a total of five flex spots. In my latest build, these spots are occupied by two Endless Ones, two Copters, and a Matter Reshaper.
Brewing Around Copter
I'm happy with Copter's performance in Colorless Eldrazi Stompy so far, and am keeping it in the list for now. But it took quite a few games with that deck for Copter to show its worth. I wanted to expedite the process by brewing a whole deck around Smuggler's Copter.
Looking for Recruits
Step one was to find creatures made to fly. One such creature wasn't even so much a creature at all: Dryad Arbor. Arbor can be searched up and put directly into play with any green fetch, crewing Copter during an opponent's attack step to wall Goblin Guide or killing a planeswalker out of nowhere when we untap without any non-vehicle threats. The opportunity cost of playing a single Arbor is quite low, so I assumed I was already in green while looking for other threats.
The aforementioned Thraben Inspector was also high on my list, as was Voice of Resurgence. Voice makes it annoying for opponents to remove Copter with a creature-kill spell while the vehicle takes the offensive, as doing so would net us an Elemental token.
The final white card I considered was Blade Splicer, who could make a 3/3 and then start crewing. Unfortunately, three mana is quite a hefty tag for a deck without Aether Vial, so I decided to leave Splicer to the Death & Taxes decks.
In blue, Spellstutter Sprite and Snapcaster Mage seemed like the strongest options (of any color, actually). We talked about Sprite above, and Snap shares its ability to enter the battlefield, generate value, and crew the Copter from there on out. Snap even improves our mana curve, enabling lines like these:
- T1: Serum/Push
- T2: Copter
- T3: Snap-Serum/Push, crew, attack, loot
Desolate Lighthouse in Twin showed us the power of looting every turn in a deck with Lightning Bolt, so I also checked red for possible pilots. All I found were Grim Lavamancer and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, both unexciting candidates.
Playing around with x/2s in my early builds made me miss Mutagenic Growth, a card I've long used to beat the Bolt Test. Growth's upside with Copter was not lost on me; we'd crew it on our turn, go to combat, and Growth past a Bolt to hit for five in addition to casting a functional Mental Misstep. The nostalgic pangs led me to peruse the Modern card database for other creatures with those magical two points of toughness, as well as one point of offense to crew Copter with. (Imagine my crestfallen expression when Deathrite Shaman came up.)
I found Prophet of Distortion, an unassuming Eldrazi that drew me lots of cards at the Oath of the Gatewatch prerelease. With a Mutavault in play, Prophet relives his glory days, setting up a cascade of card advantage few decks can handle. When I examined Modern's benchmarks for creature playability, I learned almost any one-drop can see play in the format so long as it offers its deck enough synergy, and Prophet is no exception.
Committing to Mutagenic Growth also opened up Gnarlwood Dryad as a possibility. Early on, Gnarlwood taps to crew Copter and slows down assaults from aggro decks with its deathtouch. But after a few loots, it becomes a menacing 3/3 itself, making it savable by Growth. Like Sprite and Prophet, Dryad lends itself to multiple roles throughout a game.
Including delirium meant no grave hosers, and employing a gameplan dependent on one-drops has always benefited Tarmogoyf. Besides, would you even trust that I brewed this deck if it omitted the Lhurgoyf?
Introducing Sultai Copter
I opted for black and Fatal Push because of how impressed I'd been with a package of 4 Push and 4 Snapcaster out of UB Faeries, especially with Copter active to keep the engine greased. Black also gives us more flexible creature (Murderous Cut) and permanent (Abrupt Decay) removal, as well as the excellent Fulminator Mage in the sideboard.
Notes on the Deck
- Serum Visions is necessary to help us set up against midrange or survive the early turns against aggro. It's also just really good. With Copter, Visions turns into a two-main-phase Preordain.
- Copter's "downside" of needing a crew every turn is actually a plus in this deck. It allows us to have mana available to protect it with Spellstutter Sprite or Snapcaster Mage-Mutagenic Growth by the time we make it a creature.
- It's best to hold Prophets in hand until later against midrange decks if we have other ways to crew Copter early. Once opponents have spent resources on Copter and Tarmogoyf, dropping Prophet and immediately drawing a card makes it challenging for grindy decks to come back.
- Tron isn't that bad of a matchup, thanks in no small part to the six dedicated hate cards in the sideboard. Copter helps us get to Rejection, Stroke, Fulminator, or Snapcaster every turn, making it hard for Tron to resolve bombs before dying to our little beaters.
- Fulminator Mage can resolve, crew Copter, then pop a land. He even survives Bolt thanks to Mutagenic Growth while beating down!
- Life from the Loam gives us plenty of gas to loot with and helps grind out removal-heavy decks by recurring Mutavault and Dryad Arbor. It's bad against faster decks, though.
- We can play a single delve spell at close to no cost, despite packing cards with delirium, and I started with Tasigur. Soon, I realized I wanted a removal spell to dig for that could kill creatures that cost more than four, so that slot went to Murderous Cut.
- Yavimaya Coast is a fifth colorless source for Prophet, which I found ideal with two copies of the Eldrazi main.
- Even in Sultai or other color combinations without red, Mutagenic Growth provides a reach element that becomes more reliable with Snapcaster Mage in the equation.
Spellstutter Sprite, Snapcaster Mage, and Dryad Arbor are awesome in conjunction with Smuggler's Copter. But as mentioned above, I don't think the black is necessary in this deck. All I know is we want access to a cheap removal option, so white (Path to Exile, Voice of Resurgence, Thraben Inspector) and red (Fulminator Mage, Lightning Bolt) are also feasible third-color splashes.
I can also see a build without Mutagenic Growth, especially if the metagame shifts away from Lightning Bolt. For now, I've been loving Growth against decks like Grixis and Jund that should beat us on paper, but have a tough time in practice when they don't draw multiple Kolaghan's Commands.
A Loot of Fun
Lately I've started messing around with Copter in Hatebears myself. Mutagenic Growth is great at saving Leonin Arbiter from Bolts, and Life form the Loam to bring back Ghost Quarters can prove backbreaking against plenty of opponents. All the brewing has left me feeling like Copter has a bright future in Modern, despite its time in Standard being cut short.