The Best Answers for Smuggler’s Copter in MTG Standard, by Joseph Dunlap
If you’re currently trying to decide what deck to play in Standard but none of the linear strategies appeal to you, you’re then probably looking over what decks have the best answers to what’s out there. This is especially the case if you were, like myself, completely blown away by the intense Control vs. Control final of Pro Tour Kaladesh.
The first step in deciding what nonlinear, reactive deck to play is determining which colours have the best answers to the popular threats of the format. This not only applies to Control decks of varying types and speeds, but also holds true for the one-size-fits-all answers required to successfully pilot a Midrange or Tempo deck (my personal bread-and-butter).
What’s currently the most popular card for aggressive strategies in Standard? By far, the answer is Smuggler’s Copter. Just in the Top 8 of PT Kaladesh, Copter was present as a playset in WU Flash, RW Tokens, RW Vehicles, and Mardu Vehicles. That’s a total 16 copies in the Top 8, but outside of the Pro Tour we’ve grown accustomed to seeing 32 copies in our Grand Prix and SCG Top 8’s. Copter is here to stay.
What does the Copter offer to an aggressive deck? First off, it’s an artifact. In “artifacts matter” strategies that utilise Toolcraft Exemplar or Unlicensed Disintegration, its mere presence on the board generates advantage. It’s a vehicle, so it benefits from Depala, Pilot Exemplar and Veteran Motorist, which can potentially steal games. It’s a 3/3 with flying for 2 mana, as long as you have a 1/1 or bigger creature that can hop in (Glint-Nest Crane, perhaps?). Attacking for 3 damage on Turn 3 is passable in the current Standard, especially since flying usually guarantees the damage will go through.
Finally, it offers an important card filtering ability anytime it attacks and blocks. Flooded on lands? Cash in a basic land for something more relevant. Land starved? Toss something too high up the mana curve and dig deeper into your deck. If this ability only triggered on attacks, Copter would still be a great aggressive card that generates early game advantage. Triggering on blocks means that even as you move into mid and late game, if you are forced to put on the brakes and block with a 3/3 body, you can still filter out any dead cards and hope to draw the threats (or answers) you need to close out the game.
If you’re looking to build a reactive deck, how can you deal with Smuggler’s Copter? This article will focus on the early game answers each colour has to offer, capping off at 4 mana. These answers range from all-purpose creature removal, to countermagic, to artifact hate. Late-game removal effects like Quarantine Field are not included, as they have no effect on early game where Copter is at is best, though Field is one of the few sweeper effects actually effective against Copter.
Also, it’s important to remember that creature removal must be Instant-speed only, unless you’re counting on your opponent spending a lot of time blocking with their Copter. With that, let’s take a look at The Best Answers for Smuggler’s Copter in Standard…
White: Artifacts, Big Stuff, Attacking Creatures, and Exile
White is the colour of instant-speed artifact hate, punishing big creatures, punishing creatures for attacking, and indiscriminate exile effects.
By far, the most popular method white offers to deal with Copter is wait for it to attack, then hit it with an Instant (they’ll get to loot, but at least you can kill Copter):
- Immolating Glare and Silverstrike punish it for attacking.
- Puncturing Light punishes it for being small and attacking (as long as it’s not affected by a pump effect).
- Blessed Alliance will force a sacrifice if it’s the only attacker.
- Gideon’s Reproach and Impeccable Timing hit it with damage (much like Puncturing Light, Timing only kills Copter if it’s not under the effects of a +1/+1 effect).
White is often the go-to colour to destroy or exile large creatures. Currently, that job falls squarely on the back of Skywhaler’s Shot, and it is a solid removal spell that we would be wise to consider when building a deck.
White also offers some “generic exile” effects, either all-purpose creature removal (such as Declaration in Stone, which is sadly only sorcery speed), or more broad spectrum removal. Stasis Snare is currently the go-to for instant-speed removal that doesn’t care about how big the creature, and doesn’t wait for the creature to attack. Angelic Purge is a solid generic removal spell that will do in a pinch. Many players forget it exists, but it can get the job done.
Blue: Counterspells and Bouncing
The most obvious answer blue has to Copter is to counter it as soon as it is cast. This is tricky if you’re on the draw, but not impossible.
The following counterspells are worth considering if you’re worried about vehicles on early turns (in order of mana cost):
- Ceremonious Rejection is not likely to be in your maindeck, but after sideboarding this can be a major blowout.
- Negate is another common sideboard counterspell, but I always enjoy finding excuses to jam it into the maindeck. It’s a highly underrated card, especially in a format filled with vehicles, removal, and planeswalkers.
- Scatter to the Winds and Void Shatter are the mainstays of countermagic currently. Convolute, Spell Shrivel and Abtruse Interference are easier to cast in decks with more than two colours, though they are less good as the game progresses. All five of these spells are 3 CMC (converted mana cost), so they can’t stop a Turn 2 Copter, or even Turn 3 if you’re not on the play.
The only other way blue currently has to interact with vehicles such as Smuggler’s Copter are “bounce” effects, or cards that return a permanent to its owner’s hand. They are not always a permanent answer, but they offer an advantage on tempo and stalling for late game:
- Sweep Away offers the best tempo advantage, though its mana cost makes it iffy on the draw.
- Compelling Deterrence has the potential in late game to act as a removal card, as long as you control a Zombie and your opponent has no cards in hand.
- Just the Wind and Unsubstantiate are functionally similar to Deterrence. There are subtle differences that might influence your decision on which of the three to play.
- Aether Tradewinds is the weakest of the blue bounce options, but in the right situation it could save a creature you control while sending a vehicle off the battlefield.
Black: Killing Creatures Since 1993
What black kill spells lack in versatility, they make up for in the sheer ability to easily kill creatures at instant speed.
Murder is the best example of this. 3 CMC, instant, kill target creature. Sinister Concoction has a similar effect, though it does require a discard (perhaps Murderous Compulsion to also kill the crewing creature?).
Finally, there’s Grasp of Darkness. At 2 CMC, it’s the go-to kill spell for black-based Control players, though the double-black cost makes it quite prohibitive. You’ll find that -4/-4 kills pretty much everything relevant to early game.
Red: Kill it With Fire, Destroy the Artifacts
Red is basically the colour of goblins throwing firebombs at enemies and smashing priceless artifacts. While red currently suffers from a plethora of sorcery burn spells, there are still some great options for killing pesky Copters at instant speed:
- Indisputably, Fiery Temper is the best spell for this situation (though, as previously mentioned, Temper can’t do the job if Copter is under a pump effect).
- Lightning Axe can definitely help with your Copter problems, and discarding Fiery Temper also lets you take care of its pilot.
- Harnessed Lightning provides just enough energy to finish off a Copter, and if you’ve already accumulated a few extra energy counters, you can deal with any additional pilot pump effects.
- Galvanic Bombardment can’t even touch Copter until there’s already one (or more) in the graveyard, but there are multiple ways to fix this problem: discard your first copy (Tormenting Voice, Lightning Axe, etc.), or cast it on the first creature that crews Copter.
- In the current field of creatures, don’t forget about Inner Struggle. It’s a bit steep in cost, but it kills a lot of the field.
- Last and probably least, Savage Alliance can also kill Smuggler’s Copter, as long as you have the mana to escalate. I bet you also forgot that card existed, didn’t you?
As far as specific artifact destruction goes, red currently has access to Structural Distortion and Demolish. Distortion is clearly the stronger option, so if you can afford the 4 mana curve in your sideboard, considering bringing a few in.
Coming in at the end of this list is an oddly specific card for red: Tears of Valakut. While green is often the Killer of Winged Things (see below), this card could serve a specific purpose if you’re looking to sideboard against Copter.
Green: Kill the Fliers, Creatures Dealing Damage, and More Artifact Hate
Currently, green has the highest concentration of artifact removal. Some have more relevant mana costs for dealing with Copter, but each comes with its own strengths and weaknesses (in order of mana cost):
- Similar to Ceremonious Rejection and Fragmentize, Natural State is the clear winner for a quick, efficient answer. While Fragmentize is effective against CMC 4 or higher, Natural State can be played on your opponent’s turn.
- Root Out and Appetite for the Unnatural are good 3 CMC answers. Appetite can be played at instant speed, while Root Out provides a clue token.
- Reclaiming Vines, Creeping Mold and Springsage Ritual are your 4 CMC answers. Springsage is an instant that also hits enchantments. Vines and Mold are functionally the same card and also have the ability to hit lands (such as Sanctum of Ugin or Westvale Abbey).
Green is also the colour of anti-flying spells, and there’s plenty of flying in Standard. There are currently two instants that deal with flying: Plummet and Clip Wings. The are functionally similar, so choose based off the other threats in the format.
Finally, green provides spells akin to burn, but reliant on having creatures. Traditionally, green does this in the form of the “fight” mechanic (as seen on Dromoka’s Command), but all three options currently in Standard simply deal damage to the target: Moonlight Hunt (a viable option in a Werewolf deck, but less efficient against an early Copter), Rabid Bite, and Clear Shot (like Bite, but with a +1/+1 bonus).
Gold and Colourless
If you are looking to efficiently answer Smuggler’s Copter, there are currently four options in Standard multicolour, or “gold”, cards:
- Unlicensed Disentegration is functionally similar to Murder, but easier to cast in a BRx deck. If you happen to be running any artifacts, all the better – but it’s not required.
- Anguished Unmaking is textbook WB removal. It gets the job done.
- If Copter has already attacked, you can always slam Nahiri, the Harbinger and exile the pesky vehicle. Nahiri appears to be well-positioned currently, so give it some consideration if you’re playing RWx midrange or control.
- For the same cost as a 3 CMC counterspell (which, as mentioned before, are only effective on the play and if Copter hasn’t been cast on Turn 2), Spell Queller can eat up a Smuggler’s Copter. Queller is better against situational spells, but if you can hit a Copter, your opponent will suffer a huge tempo loss.
Finally, there are two colourless spells that can take care of Copter, both of which are instants. For 3 CMC, Titan’s Presence can reward you for having large artifact or Eldrazi creatures in your hand. It hasn’t seen much play since it was printing, but it’s okay in the right deck.
Spatial Contortion is far more versatile and only costs 2 CMC, though the cost specifically requires one generic and one colourless mana. With the prevalence of Aether Hub in multicolour and energy decks, Contortion is as easy as ever to cast. Beware its single drawback, which is its inability to kill Copter if it has been pumped. In fact, if you attempt to kill Copter and your opponent responds with a Built to Smash, be prepared to take 9 damage on Turn 3. Gross.
Well, that’s it for this week! Did you enjoy my list? Did I leave anything out? Has this helped you in choosing a Standard deck, or given you ideas for a new brew? Leave a comment, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Thanks for reading,