The Kaladesh expansion vehicle cards are artifacts that have a cost to turn them from artifacts into artifact creatures.

I'm trying to understand how to factor in the crew cost with the converted mana cost, when deciding if the card is good or not.

For instance, Irontread Crusher is 4 colourless, 3 to crew and is a 6/6, whereas Consulate Dreadnought is 1 colourless, 6 to crew and is 7/11!

That last one seems unbelievably cheap. How do I figure out if it's a great card or if I've underestimated the cost of crewing?

How does crew cost affect CMC?

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    Your title sort of sounds like you're asking how the costs were chosen as the sets were designed or possibly how to think of them when building a deck, while the body just refers to specific game rules - I answered assuming you meant the latter. Please do clarify if I misunderstood! – Cascabel Apr 17 '17 at 1:01
  • @jefromi, much more the former I'm afraid. I'll try to make that clearer – Pureferret Apr 17 '17 at 10:54
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    This sounds like the answer is going to depend a lot on your deck and how many creatures you can get out. – Joe W Apr 17 '17 at 21:54
  • @JoeW, MonoRed's answer fits though. He's explained it in those terms, and implies if I can get enough creatures out that using this costs less, it might be worth it, otherwise it's not. – Pureferret Apr 18 '17 at 8:05
up vote 9 down vote accepted

Evaluating the vehicles like they're creatures is a mistake. As @JonTheMon says, vehicles are very analogous to equipment; they're worthless without creatures (or one of the other, fringe-ier enablers), and they can be "moved around". A good first step is then comparing the statline to the crew cost.

Another major consideration is the crew cost, just on its own. A Crew 1 vehicle will almost always have a creature capable of crewing it alone. A Crew 2 vehicle is usually safe too, but Crew 3 and above gets difficult. Crewing vehicles with multiple smaller creatures is ill-advised, as now you're tapping out a lot of your board for smaller gain. The best vehicles printed in Kaladesh block are Heart of Kiran and Smuggler's Copter (the latter being strong and pervasive enough to be banned). Copter had crew 1, which made it very good. Heart of Kiran is much harder to crew, but it makes up for it by being able to use planeswalkers as crew instead.

When a vehicle has a high crew cost, you need a larger creature to use it effectively. If you have such a huge creature (for example, one with 6 power to crew Consulate Dreadnought), you are in a strong position anyway, and the 7/11 is likely not that much stronger (we call cards like this "win-more" cards, and they're generally bad). Again, maybe you crew it with a bunch of small creatures, maybe tokens, but this is bad; a major source of value from tokens is their ability to clog up the board, and tapping a bunch of them down for one large creature is very unappealing, unless that card literally wins the game.

To properly evaluate vehicles, you have to do a little more than look at their statlines. Instead consider this; when does having this card on the board, or in my hand, help me? If a card is at its most useful when you're already winning, like Consulate Dreadnought, it is probably not a good card; the Dreadnought comes down on turn 1, but you're unlikely to be able to crew it until turn 4 or 5 at the earliest, and you're either tapping down an already large creature, or giving up on your entire board to do it. It lacks trample or any evasion, so it can be stopped by 1/1s, and on top of all that it adds only 1 power on top of what damage your crew could do normally. It is at its best when the board is clogged with large creatures, so it's 11 toughness can shine. This is a very specific situation that is not even likely to come up most games. Comparatively, see limited all-star Renegade Freighter. At Crew 2, it's likely that by turn 4, when it's able to attack, you'll have one or more creatures capable of operating it on its own. Landing on turn 3 means that it arrives early enough to be relevant, but it has an aggressive enough statline to remain useful late in the game, if that comes to it. It's great at developing your board, it closes out games that you're already winning, and it is beefy enough to block for you if you're losing.

This idea of evaluating when cards are useful, instead of just looking at their stats, is a very good philosophy for evaluating magic cards in general, but it's particularly useful for weird, newer types of cards like vehicles.

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    This is a really good answer. Covers sequencing, synergy, the importance of evasion when "putting all your eggs in one basket." Hints at both the concept of tempo and the "big turn." Niiiiiice. – Alex P Apr 17 '17 at 19:14
  • So it sounds like... the dreadnought is designed for a 6+ monster that it's easy to get out but struggles to attack as a drawback. As for not wasting token creatures it makes sense. This is an excellent answer - answers the questions I really had not just the ones I asked. – Pureferret Apr 17 '17 at 21:29

One way to view how vehicles are costed is to liken them to equipment.

For Irontread Crusher, for a vanilla 3/3 creature to crew it, it essentially gives +3/+3 for 4 mana.

For the Dreadnaught, for two vanilla 3/3 creatures, it essentially gives +1/+5 for 1 mana.

So, it seems like you're getting a fair bit of bang out of the Crusher, but that's offset by the higher mana cost. Whereas the Dreadnaught doesn't give much to an already high power, but it has a low mana cost.

  • How do I judge this, if I'm using 6 1/1 token creatures for the dreadnought, for instance ? I guess this becomes very deck dependant when you start crew crewing with different combinations. Is there a balanced way to say ` +1/+5 for 1 mana` is a good card if I'm using xyz to crew it? How is that determined when these cards were designed? BTW, looking at these as an enchantment really helps me understand them. – Pureferret Apr 17 '17 at 10:53
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    It doesn't really matter a whole lot what you crew it with, since you still need to put in 6 points of power. One exception would be if you have creatures with imbalanced P/T, like a 4/1 for example. You can consider high power, low toughness creatures more "efficient" crew, since you won't have to pay for toughness you're not using. – Nuclear Wang Apr 17 '17 at 12:47

Converted mana cost (CMC) is only determined by the mana cost in the top right; there's nothing special going on with vehicles. Irontread Crusher has a CMC of 4, and Consulate Dreadnought has a CMC of 1. But that's just a rules term, with essentially no bearing on how good the cards are.

As you've noticed, the mana cost of a vehicle is generally drastically less than the mana cost of a similar actual creature. This is because crewing generally not only requires spending more mana on one or more creatures, but spending another card. For example, maybe you spend five or six mana on two creatures with a total power of 6, and then also cast the Consulate Dreadnought. That's less like a 7/11 for one mana and one card, and more like a 7/11 for six or seven mana and three cards.

Some other factors:

  • The vehicle can sort of grant haste to another creature: you play the vehicle first, then the other creature the next turn, and immediately attack with the vehicle. This increases the average value slightly.
  • You can use the vehicle aggressively, since if it dies, you keep the creatures. This increases the average value.
  • You may not always be able to crew the vehicle, e.g. if you need your creatures to block or your opponent removes them. This reduces the average value.

Tying this all together is naturally a bit fuzzy, and depends a lot on the context of the deck. In a deck that makes 1/1 tokens all the time, a crew cost of 1 is almost free. But a crew cost of 6 is pretty much never free. It also depends a lot on what you're playing against. For example, against a deck that can easily remove key creatures or sweep the board, vehicles are at risk of getting stranded uncrewed.

If you want a really really rough rule of thumb, just look at the average size and cost of creatures in your deck. If you have a lot of 3/1s for two mana each, then a crew cost of 6 is, a bit pessimistically, roughly two extra cards and four extra mana.

  • You come close to what I'm after. You mention pretty big discount vs crew costs, but I know that for 'plain' cards the CMC is always roughly the same as the power/toughness of the creature (give or take differences due to colour) but sometimes you get cards that are just... Worse. Having a vehicle with a crew cost makes it harder to figure this out. Is there a well defined way to judge the balance of these new cards? – Pureferret Apr 17 '17 at 10:43

General rules of thumb in magic are that creatures have similar power and toughness and that each combined point of power and toughness costs roughly one mana. Obviously this is color dependent, set dependent, ability dependent, and there are hundreds of exceptions, but we need a baseline and Grizzly Bears is it. A 2/2 for 2 mana.

As JonTheMon suggests, we can assume that all of your creatures are equal power and toughness and follow the Grizzly Bears cost scheme to get an initial approximation for the value of a vehicle: subtract the crew cost from the power and toughness of the vehicle. Thus, a 6/6 vehicle with crew 3 for 4 mana is essentially a movable +3/+3 bonus for 4 mana.

Now grizzly bears tells us this is weak because 3 power and toughness should cost 3 mana, not 4. But they printed Irontread Crusher despite this, so we must be missing something. This is a decent first approximation, but vehicles must be somewhat more valuable than that at baseline. Here's how:

  1. Not all creatures have equal power and toughness. While power usually costs more than toughness when they are imbalanced (compare Incurable Ogre to Indomitable Ancients), low toughness creatures can still give you more power per mana than creatures with equal power and toughness. Vehicles then negate the combat downside of the low toughness (you are still vulnerable to direct damage spells and abilities). A great creature to exploit with vehicles is Rakka Mar.

  2. You can crew a large vehicle with lots of small creatures. Let's say you have some planeswalker churning out 1/1's. If your opponent has some mid-sized blockers, you can't attack with these 1/1's because half of them will get slaughtered with minimal effect to your opponent. Meanwhile, if you have half of them crew a vehicle, leaving the other half to block, your opponent must now take casualties to block you. It's like banding from the "good old days".

  3. Unlike equipment, vehicles can be crewed by creatures that can't attack. This makes creatures like Cinder Wall and Slumbering Dragon crazy in their ability to crew vehicles efficiently. These add a lot to the value of the vehicle.

As a result of these, the value of a vehicle is going to depend on the creatures you are running it with or the purpose it fills in your deck. Irontread Crusher in a deck with Cinder Wall and Slumbering Dragon is now a +3/+3 bonus as well as Animate Wall. The Crusher with one of Rakka Mar's elementals is a +3/+5 bonus. And this could all be the same deck, so the vehicle has versatility to boot.

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